Joost de Valk, Annelieke van den Berg, Michiel Heijmans, Marieke van de Rakt, Thijs de Valk
Colophon ÂŠ 2014 Yoast ISBN/EAN 978-90-822653-1-6 NUR 988 Publisher: Yoast Authors: Joost de Valk, Michiel Heijmans, Marieke van de Rakt, Thijs de Valk, Annelieke van den Berg,
Editor: Marieke van de Rakt Design: Mijke Peters Illustrations: Erwin Brouwer Edition: 1
Table of Contents Introduction
About this book
Search Engine Optimization
Introduction to Search Engine Optimization
Introduction to navigation
Top menu navigation: coming in from the North
Navigation in main content: the Wild West
Sidebar: in the East
Footer: in the South
Making money with your website
The checkout process
What is Google Analytics?
Improving your website with Google Analytics
A / B Tests
Why use social media?
How to use social media?
Checking your site speed
Increasing your site speed
Introduction by Marieke van de Rakt
About this book Introduction Building a WordPress website isnâ€™t that hard. WordPress was developed in order to make blogging easy and accessible for a very large audience. You can figure out WordPress yourself, or use one of the numerous manuals that will help you set up your site. Subsequently, you can upÂgrade your site with many plugins, for instance allowing your website to become a shop. And then what? How do you make sure your site stands out from all of the other ones on the internet? How do you make sure people find your website? What do you have to do to make people buy your stuff? Installing your WordPress site is only the beginning. In order to have a website which keeps appealing to your audience, you will have an endless job in keeping your content and design up to date. You will have to do continuous Search Engine Optimization in order to make sure that people find your website on Google and other search engines. You should make sure users of your website can find the information you want them to find. And if you have a shop, you should make sure that people can find and (want to) buy your products.
Content of this book This book will help you to optimize your WordPress site. The book consists of multiple sections, which can be read in any order you like. Each section will teach you the basics of one aspect of website optimization. Weâ€™ll teach you the basics of Search Engine Optimization and explain the importance of user interface and good navigation. Furthermore, we will give the most important insights on improving your sales and conversions. The sections are written by experts in the field of SEO, Navigation, Conversion and Analytics.
Search engine - terminology In this book, we will write Google when we refer to a search engine. Of course, there are many other search engines, like Bing and Yahoo. But since Google pretty much dominates the search engine market, we will only refer to Google in our texts.
WordPress What is WordPress? WordPress is an open source Content Management System (CMS) you can use for your blog or your webshop. It was first released in 2003, by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. Nowadays, it powers up to 20% of the websites on the web. WordPress started as just a blogging system, but is since then evolved to be used as a full Content Management System for your website.
Of course, at Yoast, we are WordPress-fans. And with good reason! WordPress is free and open source. It is easy to use and allows for great flexibility. WordPress has a plugin architecture which allows users to extend the functionality of the website beyond the core installation. Plugins are pieces of code which extend the functionality. WordPress ensures simplicity for users, while allows for complexity for developers. 8
Why use WordPress? Let’s take a look at the advantages of using WordPress over other Content Management Systems! You can read much more about the features and requirements and find testimonials on WordPress.org.
It’s very easy! Making content in WordPress is very easy. It’s just as easy as making a document in Microsoft Word. You don’t even have to be able to read or write code in order to create a post in WordPress. Everybody with a little computer skills is able to maintain his or her own blog using WordPress.
It’s very flexible! You can create a personal website, a photoblog or a business website. You can make it any way you like. You can easily change appearances by adding a different theme and give your website an entirely different look. WordPress comes with a few default themes, but you can choose from thousands of themes to give your website the look you want. Numerous sites offer free and premium themes. Uploading a new theme is really easy and can give your website a complete new look in a matter of seconds. WordPress core already comes with features for every user, but you can upgrade your functionality with plugins. There are literally tens of thousands of plugins (free and paid) which allow for social media widgets, spam protection and so much more.
Yoast Tip At Yoast, we offer several themes and numerous free and premium plugins to optimize your website.
It’s very free! You do not have to pay any kind of license fee to WordPress. It’s free! And it’s open source. So you are free to use WordPress in any way you choose: you can install it, use it, change it, distribute it. As the most popular CMS on the web, WordPress has a large and supportive community. A lot of very skilled developers work together to make WordPress even better. You can ask questions on support forums and get help from volunteers. WordPress is licensed under a GPL open source license, which is a pretty complex bit of text, but it means that: • You can charge for distributing, supporting, or documenting the soft-
ware, but you cannot sell the software itself. • If you create derivative works that use pieces of code that are licensed
under the GPL, those derivative works should also be licensed under the GPL. That last bit is very important, it basically prevents the software from ever becoming a proprietary piece of software.
Where to start If you do not have a WordPress site and you would like to get started with WordPress, you should check out WordPress.org/about. 10
To run WordPress your host just needs a couple of things: • PHP version 5.2.4 or higher; • MySQL version 5.0 or higher.
You can download and install a software script from WordPress.org and then you should be able to get started. Most hosts actually have a WordPress installer in their backends, allowing you to install WordPress by the click of a button. There is a lively support community in the WordPress forums that is eager to help you if you have questions, the WordPress codex and a site like WPBeginner are also great places to start working with WordPress.
Yoast and WordPress At Yoast we make money using WordPress. This might seem counterintuitive. Should all the software we develop be free just because we develop for WordPress? We offer and will continue to offer free plugins. In order for Yoast to continue to develop our products and to give support, we have to sell stuff. We sell consultancy and we sell (support and updates to our) plugins and themes.
For the free plugins, there are volunteers on the WordPress forums, but we donâ€™t often dive in. With millions of users and only 12 of us, we simply cannot answer all the questions of individual users ourselves. That being said, we want to stress that all of our products are open source and we are big believers in the power of open source. In our opinion: making money in an open source community is beneficial for the open source community as long as you continue to invest in the open source community. If you want to read more about our view, you can read our post Victory of the Commons.
Search Engine Optimization by Joost de Valk
About this section In this section, we will teach you the basics of SEO. We will tell you what Google does and what SEO exactly is. In the following chapters we will teach you how to do a keyword research and to set up the structure and the internal linking structure of the website. We will give the basics of technical SEO, tell you some things about SEO copywriting. In the last chapter (8) of this section we will give some information about link building.
Introduction to Search Engine Optimization What does Google do? How does Google find your site? Search engines like Google follow links. It follows links from one webpage to another webpage. A search engine like Google consists of a crawler, an index and an algorithm. A crawler follow the links on the web. It goes around the internet 24-7 and saves the HTML-version of a page in a gigantic database, the index. This index is updated if Google has come around your website and finds a new or revised version. Depending on the traffic on your site and the amount of changes you make on your website, Google comes around more or less often. For Google to know of the existence of your website, there first has to be a link from another site to your site. Following that link will lead to the first crawler-session and the first save in the index.
Googleâ€™s secret algorithm After indexing your website, Google can show your website in the search results. Google has a specific algorithm that decides which pages in which order are shown. How this algorithm works is a secret, nobody knows exactly which factors decide the ordering of the search results. Moreover, factors 15
and their importance change very often. Testing and experimenting gives us a relatively good feel for the important factors and the changes in these factors.
Googleâ€™s results page Googleâ€™s result page shows 7 or 10 links to sites which fit best to your keyword. We refer to these results as the organic search results. If you click to the second page, more results are shown. Above these 10 blue links, often are two or three paid links. These links are ads, people have paid Google to put these links at the top of the site when people search for a specific term. Prices for these ads greatly vary, depending on the competitiveness of the search term. In the column on the right of the Google-screen, ads often appear as well.
The value of links for search engines Itâ€™s very important to have a basic understanding of how Google (and most search engines) use links: they use the number of links pointing to a page to determine how important that page is. Both internal (links from the own website) as well as external links could help in the ranking of your website in Google. Some links are more important than others: links from websites who have a lot of links themselves are generally more important than links from small websites.
Universal search Next to the organic and the paid results, Google also embeds news items, pictures and videos in its search results. This embedment is called universal search. 16
What is Search Engine Optimization? High ranking in organic search results Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the profession that attempts to optimize sites to make them appear in a high position in the organic search results. In order to do so, SEO tries to fit ones website to Google’s algorithm. Although Google’s algorithm remains secret, almost a decade of experience in SEO has resulted in a pretty good idea about the important factors. In our view, the factors in Google’s algorithm can be divided in two categories: 1 There are on-page factors which decide the ranking of your website.
These factors include technical issues (e.g. the quality of your code) and more textual issues (e.g. structure of your site and text, use of words). 2 There are the off-page factors. These factors include the links to your
site. The more other (relevant) sites link to your website, the higher your ranking in Google will be. In the following chapters, we thoroughly discuss on-page factors. The off-page factors are much harder to influence. In chapter 8, we discuss link building as one technique to influence your ranking via off-page factors.
Make an awesome website! In the following chapters, we will teach you the basics of SEO. At Yoast, we give SEO-advice to (small) website owners and large consultancy clients (the Guardian, Facebook). Joost de Valk began his SEO-career over 8 years ago. And although Google has changed its algorithm quite a few times, most of the advice we give at Yoast has remained the same over the years. And this advice is very simple: you just have to make sure your site is damn good. Do not use any ‘tricks’, because they usually don’t work in the long run, and might even backfire. Google’s mission is to build the perfect search engine that helps people find what they are looking for. Making your website and your marketing strategy fit for this goal is always the way to go.
WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast Yoast is most famous for our WordPress SEO plugin (WP SEO). Most of the technical aspects of SEO you should do actually are covered by our free WordPress SEO plugin. Installing the plugin and using the default settings already improves quite a lot. It even fixes some minor issues WordPress has. WP SEO also helps in writing SEO-friendly content (see chapter 7). Our advice is to download and install the WP SEO plugin by Yoast on your website. Of course, there are other SEO plugins, but our plugin is the most complete and your website remains fast. Next to a 18
free plugin, we also offer a premium WP SEO plugin. In the premium plugin extra functionality is added and customers of this premium plugin can ask our team for support.
Keyword research Introduction The first step in optimizing any website for a search engine is to start thinking about the searching strategies of your audience. What search strategies do they have? Which search terms will they use? These questions are the beginning of your keyword research. In this chapter, we will give practical tips how to conduct your own keyword research. Keyword research is actually the basis of all search marketing. You have to know which search terms people use when looking for your website or product.
Step 1: write down your mission What do you do? What makes your website unique? What idea or product do you ‘sell’ ? And why should people buy this from you? Make sure your mission is clear in your mind as well as on your website.You want to be found on the terms that fit your site. You want to be found by your (potential) customers. Ranking on terms that don’t fit your site, will result in a high bounce rate (visitors immediately leave your site, because your site is not what they expect it to be). A high bounce rate indeed indicates that your website does not fit the search needs of customers and Google could well adjust the ranking after high bounce rates. A high bounce rate could eventually lead to a lower ranking in Google. 20
Competitiveness of the market Whether or not you will be able to rank on the terms you choose, largely depends on the market you are in. Some markets are highly competitive, with large companies dominating the search results. These companies have a very large budget to spend on marketing in general and SEO specifically. Ranking in these markets is hard. Find out what differentiates your company from these big boys and adjust your search terms to your niche. For instance, if you sell holidays to the carribean you will have a hard time ranking on holiday caribbean. Perhaps your focus is on travels specifically for the elderly or for newlyweds. Ranking on holiday caribbean elderly or holiday caribbean newlyweds would be much easier and could be a better strategy.
Step 2: on what search terms do you want to be found? Making a list Make a list of all the search terms you want to be found on. This phase is hard (as well as crucial). What terms will people use? You really have to get inside the heads of your audience. How do people search? And what is the â€˜problemâ€™ your website (or product) resolves? Which question does your website answer? A few years ago, doing your keyword research was easier. You could simply check Google Analytics to see on which terms people found your website. That is no longer possible. So you are pretty much left in the dark about the terms people use in search engine to end up at your website. If 21
you have visitors who come to your website using Bing, you should be able to view their search terms.
Tools you could use You may want to use some tools in order to get started: • Google Adwords Keyword Planner
This can be a very useful tool, with the slight caveat that the search volume data in the planner is really only useful for keywords that you’re actually spending money to advertise on. Use the tool to find new and related keywords, but neglect the search volume data! • yoast.com/suggest/
This tool uses the Google Suggest functionality you know from searching in Google. It finds the keyword expansions Google gives and then requests more of them. So if you type ‘example‘, it’ll also give you the expansions for ‘example a…’ till ‘example z…’ etc. It’s a great way to quickly find more niche keywords you can focus on. A similar tool is Übersuggest. • Google Trends
While you can’t reliably get traffic information for keywords, Google Trends does allow you to relatively compare the traffic for sets of keywords. Check this query for instance, comparing the relative growth of several WordPress SEO terms and our brand Yoast. You can even see the difference for numerous geographical regions. It’s very important to check Google Trends if you expect that some of your keywords are seasonal, for instance due to regulations, holiday seasons etc.
• Your internal search engine
What are people looking for on your site? A category we always find particularly interesting is the set of keywords that didn’t get any results: this was stuff people were expecting but didn’t find, it’s very possible for you to give those products a different name. You can do this with our Google Analytics for WordPress plugin.
Long-tail keywords The tools may help you to make an extensive list of search terms people use to end up on your site. Do also think about combinations of terms. Make sure you don’t just pick terms that consist of one word only. The longer (and more specific) search terms are, the easier it will be to rank on the term. These longer terms are called long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are more specific and less common, and will probably be used by potential visitors that already know what they want to find or buy. The long-tail user will search for ‘compare prices macbook air desktop stand‘ instead of doing a search for a so-called head keyword like ‘macbook air stand‘. Siri and Google Now encourage searches like: “Where can I find the best coffee in Seattle?” One of the main benefits of using long-tail keywords is that, although these keywords may be used less in search, the visitor that finds your website using them is more likely to buy your stuff. He or she has already thought things over, has possibly compared products or types and therefore does a more specific search.
Yoast Tip When you do a search in Google, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the first search result page to find a list of possible long-tail keywords for your term in the ‘Searches related to [ keyword ]’ section.
Step 3: create landing pages Use the list of keywords you have made and put it in a table. A table (use for instance Excel or Google Docs / Sheets to set one up) forces you to a structure and to make a landing page for all the search terms you came up with. Put the search terms in the first column and add columns in which you put the different levels of your site’s structure. In chapter 5 you can read more about site structure. Search terms
level 1: homepage
level 2: / subpages
level 3: / sub / subpages
level 4: sub / sub /subpages
term 1 term 2 term 3 term 4
Figure1: search terms
The more specific your search term is, the further down into your site structure you put your landing page of this term. Make sure that you make a landing page for every search term you come up with.
Example keyword research The theory of keyword research can be a bit dry. We will spice things up! We’ll give you an example of step 1 to 3. Let’s say that I have a blog about children. I write about children’s clothes, children’s room and children’s toys. I blog about new products, about things that I have bought and like and about new trends.
Step 1: mission My mission is to describe the latest trends about clothing, decoration and toys for children.
Step 2: keywords children’s clothes
children’s clothes trends
children’s room accessories
children’s room furniture
children’s room accessories trends
children’s decorations trends
children’s toys trends
Step 3: pages Search terms Children’s clothes
level 1: homepage.com
level 2: / subpages
level 4: sub / sub /subpages
homepage. com / clothing
Children’s clothes trends Children’s room
level 3: / sub / subpages
/ clothing / trends homepage. com / room
Children’s room accessoires Children’s room accessoires trends
/ room / accessoires / room /accessoires /trends
Figure 2: pages
Now, of course… Did we make the right choice?
As you can see from this Google Trends chart, kids clothes, for instance, is actually far more sought after. Which means we could go after the probably less competitive, children’s clothes etc anyway, or go for kids clothes. There are no rights or wrongs in this regard, you just have to be aware that you’re making this decision.
Cornerstone articles Important content Really important content deserves a page within your site’s structure, not a news item / post. It should be easily navigated to within a few clicks. We refer to these important pages as cornerstone articles. So, you go ahead and create these cornerstone pages within your site. Take some time for it, this is going to be the content that’s going to make you rank. Real people will read it and you need to convince those people. So think about search engines all you want, but think even more about the visitor that will end up on that page and give him / her something worthwhile. This also means you’re not going to create other pages within your site that target the exact same keyword, but if you discuss the keyword, you link to this page! Read more about site structure in chapter 5.
Yoast Tip Make sure that these cornerstone articles, the articles on which people enter your site, have a clear call-to-action. This means that it will be clear at the end of the page (and preferably on the top as well) what you want people to do. Do you want them to keep on reading: lead them to other, preferably related articles. Do you want them to buy your stuff: lead them to your shop. Do you want them to subscribe to your newsletter: offer them a form to sign up.
Site Structure Introduction The way your site is structured will give Google important clues about where to find the most important content. A good site structure could thus lead to a higher ranking in Google. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent. In this chapter, we will explain the importance of site structure and give practical tips which will help you set up or upgrade the structure of your own website. This chapter is a revision of a previous article written in 2011 and published on yoast.com.
Creating a pyramid By creating a good structure, you can use the content you’ve written that has attracted links from others. Your site’s structure can help to spread some of that link juice to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, that means that you can use the quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too. When developing a new site, or restructuring an existing one, it helps to draw out your site’s structure in something like Visio (or even putting it in Excel). In chapter 3 we help you to create such a structure. What you’ll want to do is put all the pages and sections of your website in a structure 29
as a tree. After drawing your siteâ€™s structure, you can analyze the faults in the structure of your website. Based on a yoast.com structure from many years ago, you would draw something like figure 3: Home
Figure 3: a typical site sketch
Analyzing your pyramid A balanced pyramid An ideal site structure should look somewhat like a pyramid from ancient Egypt. When working on your site structure, you thus should try to realise a reasonably balanced pyramid for your site structure. On the top of the pyramid is your homepage, with buttons allowing people to go down to the second level. From the pages on the second levels, people are able to navigate to pages on the third level (and so on). As you go down in levels in your website, the number of pages will go up.
We would advise you to have something between 2 and 7 main sections, depending on how content heavy your site is.
Equally large sections You can make subsections beneath your main sections. Make sure that sections are about equally large. If sections are too large, you should divide them into two main sections. A good rule of thumb for the size of sections is to make sure that no section is more than twice as large as any other section. Large section should have a prominent place on your homepage. Indeed, if a section is relatively large, this is apparently something you write much content about. Dividing such a section in two separate ones, would then result in a more accurate reflection of the content on your website. Looking at figure 3 clearly shows that the old yoast.com structure was unbalenced. As you can see, the Code section constituted more than half of the entire site. So our sections were not at all equally large. Home
Structure should reflect content In making your site structure, make sure that the structure reflects the content. Similar things should be grouped together, while things that are in fact different should be put in another section. The structure of the old yoast.com was unbalanced did not reflect the content. There were three pages that were basically about Joost de Valk: About, Projects and Websites. These three pages were not very different in content, but were treated differently in structure. Home
Traffic Pages that generate a lot of traffic should have a prominent place on your website. Check your site statistics to see which pages are very popular. Try to put these pages relatively high in your site structure. These pages apparently attract a lot of traffic and need a high place on your pyramid.
In our example, we found out that the WordPress pages were responsible for about 30% of the site traffic, but were down on the third and fourth level.
Designing a new site structure After you have analyzed the faults in your site structure you can rearrange sections and make up a new and improved site structure. Make sure you draw a balanced pyramid, giving more popular pages a higher place in the pyramid. At yoast.com, we did exactly that. In figure 4 you can see our new solution. Home / Blog
Figure 4: a more refined section structure.
As you can see we decided to move some pages up the tree, and also removed some pages. When you’re rethinking your site structure you’ll often find that some pages are not really beneficial to your users. Deleting them is the best thing you can do if that’s the case. 33
Another choice we made was to move the blog to the homepage. The homepage was utter nonsense, and basically yet another About Joost de Valk page. And though Joost likes himself, that’s not what we were hoping people came to our site for.
Naming your sections Once you’re satisfied with your site structure, have a look at the names you have come up with for your sections. If you have enough content about a subject for it to be able to have it’s own section, you can bet people are searching for it as well. That’s why it’s very wise to make sure your section names use the keywords people are searching for! Pick the right names for your sections and subsections, and you’re halfway there. Now use the same techniques to pick the titles for your pages, and make sure to keep them short and clean. For example, if you’re like us and you’ve written WordPress plugins and created a section for them, you should not call that section WordPress. What would people search for? If they want a new plugin for WordPress, they would probably use WordPress plugins for a search term. That would also be the term for that section. Our sections had names as shown in figure 5.
About Joost de Valk
Figure 5: sensible section names1
Internal link structure If you did it all right with your new site structure, it should look like a pyramid. Now you should consider how you’re going to connect the sections of this pyramid together. Look at those sections as small pyramids inside your larger pyramid. Each page in the top of that pyramid should link to all its subpages, and the other way around. So, al the subpages within a pyramid should link to the page at the top of the pyramid. Because you’re linking from pages that are closely related to each other content-wise, you’re increasing your site’s possibility to rank. Doing it like this, will help the search engine out by showing it what’s related and what isn’t.
1 we already updated our site structure again (and again), but this remains the most vivid example. 35
Take figure 6 as an example: SEO Blog WordPress Plugins
Figure 6: you also need to consider how the pages link to each other within each section.
You should make sure you keep your links between each page relevant to those pages. For example, if you linked from subpage 3 to plugin 2 all the time, the search engine might think that subpage 3 was related to plugin 2, whereas it’s only related to plugin 4.
From your new site structure to URLs Once you’ve created your new site structure, you can go forth and create the URLs for this structure. Each page’s URL should describe the content of that page, yet be as short as possible. If you have determined what keywords you want to rank for, you might include the most important ones in your URLs. 36
Keep in mind the following things while implementing your new URLs If you’re using multiple words, separate them with hyphens. • Mixed case URLs are an absolute no-go, as Unix and Linux servers
are case sensitive. Having mixed case URLs drastically increases the possibility of typos - have you ever tried remember a URL that /LoOks/ LiKe/ThiS/ ? • Numbers might be easy for your CMS, but not for your users. Remem-
bering a URL with a number in it is hard, so the chance people will remember it and link to it is smaller – don’t use numbers in URLs. • Make URLs guessable if you can. If people can remember your URLs
they can also talk about it with their friends more easily. • Make sure you redirect all your old pages to their new equivalents
using 301 redirects. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect, and this way search engines will move all the link value from the old URL to the new one. For example, make sure http://example.com 301 redirects to http://www.example.com, or the other way around, so people always link to the same “version” of your site. • Make sure content is available under one URL and one URL only, for
example by implementing print stylesheets on your pages. There’s no valid reason anymore to have a different page for printing purposes because all major browsers support print stylesheets.
Technical SEO Introduction In chapter 4 we have learned how to do a proper keyword research. You now know what terms people use when searching for your site. In chapter 5 we came up with a site structure and an internal linking structure. The next step is making sure that Google can index our website properly and rank our site when people use these search terms. In this SEO chapter we will give the very basics of the technical aspects of SEO. If you have a WordPress website, making your website SEO friendly is not that hard. WordPress itself is reasonably search engine friendly, as it supports search engine friendly URLs and its default themes output proper HTML. Our WP SEO plugin takes care of the rest. Still, there are some major conditions your site requires to meet. Not meeting these conditions would make ranking in Google impossible. In this chapter, we will discuss those requirements. On yoast.com you will find numerous articles which dive much deeper into technical SEO as we do in this chapter. This chapter is the most â€˜nerdyâ€™ chapter in this book. It could be a bit too hard if your development skills are limited. We tried to explain everything as comprehensible as possible and give lots of tips for further reading.
Three stages in SEO At Yoast, we distinguish several stages in technical SEO. First of all, you have to make sure that Google is able to index your site (we refer to this as crawlability). There should be no boundaries that prevent Google and other search engines from finding your content or circumstances that block Google from spidering your content. The second step you have to take is to investigate whether Google knows which content there is and that Google can it reach it. We refer to this as findability. Only the last step is the actual optimization: what does Google see, how does it rank that and what can we do about improving how Google ranks it. This last step will be discussed in more detail in chapter 7.
Crawlability A condition for your website to rank in Google is that Google can crawl through your site. No crawling, means no saving of your site in the index (see chapter 3) and thus no ranking. A quick way of checking whether a page on your site can be spidered is by doing a quix SEO check. Simply go to the quix SEO check page, enter the URL and check the results. If itâ€™s not green, youâ€™ve got stuff to fix! Having a site which Google does not crawl (sufficiently) could have several causes. You could be: 1 blocking the specific URL with your robots.txt; 2 blocking Google through noindex tags; 3 blocking Google because the canonical is wrong.
The quix SEO check will check all these three causes. 39
1 Robots.txt Every website should have the file robots.txt. If you do not created such a file yourself, WordPress will generate one for you. Robots.txt is a very powerful file, which indicates which sections of your site are blocked from robots including Google. It’s not uncommon at all that if a developer moves your new site from a development server to yours, copying the
robots.txt along, that he / she forgets to update it, leaving your site blocked from crawling. Testing a change to your robots.txt is easy: in Google Webmaster Tools under Crawl » Blocked URLs there are two textarea’s. The first contains your robots.txt, you can just edit it to test your change. In the textarea below that you can specify URLs that should be tested. Hit Test below that and you should get the all clear.
Yoast Tip If not, modify and test again. If you don’t know how to use Google Webmaster Tools, start reading here.
2 Noindex tags Sometimes people want some pages not to be indexed by Google. Maybe you do not want your personal blog in the search results, but you do want to show it on your website. You can use a noindex tag in the HTML in order to keep Google from indexing your site. However, sometimes these tags are written in pages where they should not have been.
Perhaps a noindex tag was added by a developer while working on your site and was forgotten afterwards. The tag looks like this:
<meta name=”robots” value=”noindex,follow” /> A noindex tag on a page results to no saving of this page in Google’s index. This page will not rank in Google on any search terms. You want that meta robots tag to read:
<meta name=”robots” value=”index,follow” /> The follow part in the tag tells a search engine that all links on your page should be followed by the search engine for further indexing of your website. If you don’t specify any meta robots tags (most pages on the web don’t), the default is for that page to allow both indexation and following, so the default is “index,follow”.
3 Wrong canonical If you have two pages holding the same content, that’s problematic for your rankings. To fix this problem, Google introduced the canonical link. Matt Cutts explains this in this video. The basics are that a canonical link is used to indicate to Google which page you would like Google to display in the search results. A canonical link should thus be used when two pages have the same content. For instance, if you have two URLs that have the same (or 95% the same) content, it would be beneficial to use a canonical link from the duplicate page to the main page (you can do this with WordPress SEO). If you don’t know which one is the ‘canonical’ one: pick one. Not doing anything is more hurtful than just picking one. 41
The problem comes when you’re setting the canonical wrong. This could occur for instance by inserting a link to a 404 page or simply a non-existing URL in that canonical link. Also, if your canonical link refers to a page which is actually very different from the original page, Google will get confused and your ranking may reduce as well. So make sure you use the correct canonical links. It’s a powerful tool, use it wisely.
Findability Now that we’ve made sure Google can index your site, it’s time to tell Google where the content is. To do that, we rely on two things: links to each page on our website, which have been taken care of by the internal link structure we made in chapter 5. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant for your site. Findability can be increased by other technical aspects as well. We will discuss the most important ones: XML sitemaps, HTML sitemaps, related links & breadcrumbs.
XML sitemaps XML sitemap contains a list of all the URL’s of your website and keeps track of it’s latest updates. The XML sitemap thus gives Google a kind of table of content of your website. The XML sitemap are strictly meant for search engines. They adhere to a standard created by the 3 big search engines Yahoo!, Google and Bing, which you can find on sitemaps.org if you want to see it. The good news is, if you’re using WordPress, all you have to do is install our WordPress SEO plugin and make sure XML sitemaps are enabled within it. Our plugin will take care of the rest. 42
Whenever you publish a new or update an existing post or page, the XML sitemap is then automatically updated and the search engines are notified of this change in the XML sitemap. They will then fetch the XML sitemap, see what changed and fetch the changed pages. This means indexation of your content is sped up incredibly. Do realize that for pages to rank, they need links. At a minimum, they need internal links from your site, but if a page is important, it should probably get high quality external links as well (see chapter 8 about link building).
HTML sitemaps Even if you’ve done the best possible job of creating a good internal link structure, it can still be helpful to create an HTML sitemap that allows visitors to get an overview of all the content on your site. If your site is very big, you might need to split this up into several sitemaps to make it ‘workable’. The benefit to the search engines is that this page will make sure that no page on your site is ‘orphaned’. every page has at least one link to it, allowing search engines to rank it.
Related links Another proven method of making sure search engines can find links to the content on your site is by adding related links to posts and pages. Most web hosts don’t really like the related links plugins available for WordPress because they’re rather resource intensive for the server to run. 43
Yoast Tip We recommend to use Post Connector (by former Yoast developer Barry Kooij) to solve this problem.
Breadcrumbs Breadcrumbs show the path people take when they click through your site. They are often visualised on the top of a page so visitors can see how they navigated. A breadcrumbs path could be Home » Clothes » Dresses. Using breadcrumbs will allow Google to easily grasp the structure of your site and this could well result in higher ranking.
Content optimization The third and final stage in SEO is optimization. Now we’re sure that search engines can find our content, it’s time to write copy. In writing and structuring your text, you can actually help with indexing your page even further. Good web copy makes sure that it is both readable and useful to visitors as well as easy to rank for search engines. So you need all the knowledge you’ve gathered about keyword research and then apply that to your text. In the next chapter we will give you some tips on how to do just that.
SEO copywriting Introduction The text on your website is a very important factor in Googleâ€™s algorithm. Google spiders your text and indexes the relevant words. Your text should thus be written in such a way that your keywords and search terms have a prominent place. However, using your keywords too often severely damages the readability of your text. In this chapter, we will give some practical tips and teach you the basics of SEO copywriting.
Yoast Tip If you want to read more about SEO copywriting, CopyBlogger is the go to source.
Writing your text Think before you write Copywriting is a true profession. It can be quite hard. And copywriting in order to optimize your website for search engines makes the job even harder. Make sure the mission of your product (see chapter 4) is crystal clear. Write it down. Think hard about the message of your text. What do you want to tell your readers? And what is the purpose of your text? What do you want you readers to do at the end of the page? Write down the answers to these questions before you begin writing. 45
Use your keywords wisely Of course, the keywords and search terms you want to be found on will have a prominent place in your text. But make sure that you don’t use these search terms too often. If you want to rank for a certain term - say children’s clothes - and you write a text which has the words children’s clothes in every sentence, chances are big that your audience will be pretty annoyed. Your text just isn’t readable anymore. Keep in mind that Google wants to facilitate its users. Users want texts that are understandable, well structured and easy to read. As a general rule of thumb: try to put down your search terms in about 1 to 2 percent of your text. Make sure your articles have a minimum of 300 words. So in an article of 300 words, you should mention your search terms 3 to 6 times. The minimum of 300 words isn’t an exact science, of course, nor is the amount of keyword mentions, but 300 is a decent minimum number of words for an article that needs to show authority.
Use of subheadings If you write longer texts and want people to find their way in your articles, you should use subheadings. Headings help Google to grasp the main topics of a long post and thus can help in your ranking. Use of subheadings will probably let you get away with using the keyword less. Subheadings will lead people, help them scan your page, and make the structure of your articles that much clearer. Make sure that your keywords are used in the subheadings, but do not put your keyword in every subheading (as it will make the text unreadable). You can read more about headings in one of Michiel’s posts. 46
Yoast Tip Make sure you add pictures or illustrations to your text which fit the content of your story. When you put a picture in your article, always try to add an alt tag (containing your keyword) that is still descriptive of the image.
Beware of over-optimization Over-optimization in your copywriting can result in Google thinking youâ€™re trying too hard. Google will then push your website down in the search results. Always keep your audience in mind and write texts that are aimed at your audience and easy to read.
Content writing with the WP SEO plugin Our WP SEO plugin actually helps you to write a SEO-friendly text. If you want the help of our plugin you should start by choosing your focus keyword and entering it in the appropriate box. This is the most important search term you want people to find this particular page for. Our plugin actually measures many aspects of the text you are writing and helps with making your text SEO-friendly. We will describe the most important ones: 1 The plugin allows you to formulate a meta-description. This description
has to be a short text which indicates the main topic of the page. If the meta-description contains the search term people use, the exact text will be shown by Google underneath your URL in the search results.
2 The plugin analyzes the text you write. It calculates a Flesch reading
ease score, which indicates the readability of your article. The Flesch reading ease score for example takes into account the length of sentences. 3 The plugin does a pretty big number of checks. It checks whether or not
you used your keyword in 5 important locations: the article-heading, the title of the page, the URL of the page, the content of the article and the meta-description. The plugin also checks the presence of links in your article and the presence of images in the article. It calculates the number of words and the density of usage of the focus keyword in the article. Above that, the plugin also checks whether or not other pages on your website use the same focus keyword, to prevent you from competing with yourself. If you write a text which is relatively SEO friendly (based on the aspects mentioned before) the plugin will indicate this with a green bullet. Writing pages with green bullets will help you improve the ranking of the pages on your website.
Keeping your site up to date There are many myths around having to keep your site updated for Google. It thus is not entirely clear whether regularly updating your website leads to a higher ranking in Google. But our advice is simple: make sure that you regularly work on your website. Adding an article regularly to your website will do the trick, which is why a blog is very useful. Adding actual and functional information to your 48
website will give Google the idea that your website is alive. If it is not an active website, Google will crawl it less often and it might become less appealing to Google to include the page in the search results. Next to that, make sure you keep your cornerstone content up to date (see chapter 4).
Link building Introduction Competitiveness of niche In chapter 3 we divided the factors influencing Googleâ€™s algorithm in two categories. First, we distinguished on-page factors, which included, among others, content and internal linking structure. And second, we distinguished off-page factors. Off-page factors are very hard to influence. The niche of your business is an off-page factor. If your company operates in the travel-industry, the competition to rank in Google is high. Other niches are much less competitive, making ranking of your website that much easier.
Links from other website The most important off-page factor that helps with your ranking are links from other websites. We know that your website will rank better if you have more links. So, to optimize your website for search engines, it would be very wise to collect as many high quality links to your site as possible.
How does a link help the ranking your site? A link to your site helps in the ranking in four ways: â€˘ It adds value to the receiving page, allowing it to improve its visibility in
the search engines. 50
• It adds value to the entire receiving domain, allowing each page on that
domain to improve its rank ever so slightly. • The text of the link is an indication to the search engine of the topic of
the website and more specifically the receiving page. • People click on links, resulting in so called direct traffic.
The value of a link for the receiving page is determined in part by the topic of the page the link is on. A link from a page that has the same topic as the receiving page is of far more value than a link from a page about an entirely different topic. On top of that, a link from within an article is worth way more than a link from a sidebar or a footer. Furthermore the more links there are on a page, the less each individual link is worth. Read more about how link building works in Joost’s link building article.
Bad reputation In recent years link building has gotten a somewhat nasty reputation. Once people noticed that links from other sites resulted in higher rankings, they began to abuse this. They got links from sites that did not have any relation with their own site. In other cases, people bought links from other sites. Buying links polluted the search engine. Not the best information, but the people who buy most links would rank high in Google if buying links would be allowed. That is why Google gives penalties to companies who buy links or (mis)use links from non-related companies. If you get a penalty from Google, your site will disappear from the search results. The bad reputation of link building comes from companies who were a bit too enthusiastic in link building and got penalties from Google. Does this mean that you shouldn’t do any link building at all? Of course not! 51
Link building the right way Donâ€™ts When you decide to improve your ranking by doing some link building, make sure you never pay for links. Never use services of companies that tell you they can get you some links. If the links your website gets are from sites that are unreliable (e.g. if there are only advertisements on the site), you should get rid of them. Itâ€™s very important to keep in mind that if a link will never get natural clicks, from people reading an article and clicking through, itâ€™s not going to be a very valuable link. Search engines are getting better and better at understanding which links truly connect the web and which are just there to fool the search engine.
Outreaching PR-activity Link building is an outreaching PR-activity. Link building should generate visitors to your site that actually fit your site. As long as you are doing nothing more than asking people to write about your awesome product, it is perfectly OK. This could really increase your rankings. Link building should feel like a normal marketing activity and not like a trick. But be aware that link building this way takes a lot of time and it will continue to take time. It does not have to be a hard or awkward activity. If your product is good, there will be more than enough people who would like to blog about it. Most bloggers need content, thus presenting your product to them will make them happy!
Guest Blogging Activities like guest blogging are nice link building activities as well. Guest blogging has gotten quite some negative press in 2014. A large guest blogging network was penalized by Google and the general SEO tendency seemed to be to advise against guest blogging. This blogging network, in the eyes of Google, abused guest blogging to create links. The bottom line is that guest blogging as such can be good for your rankings, if you do this occasionally and select the right websites for it. It shouldn’t be a blog post ‘just to be linked on that website’. If your posts actually fits the guest blog and contributes to the website than it’s perfectly OK. If you’re going to do it at scale and reproduce the same content all the time: that won’t work.
Yoast Tip Paddy Moogan has written an e-book about link building that we find is one of the most comprehensive on the topic. Get it here.
Search Engine Optimization
Further reading In this section, we have taught you the basics of Search Engine Optimization. If you want to know more about SEO we recommend you to read our WordPress SEO article: The definitive guide to higher rankings for WordPress sites. On yoast.com we post blogs on a regular basis with information and tips on SEO. Read our posts on SEO!
Navigation by Michiel Heijmans
About this section In this section, we will teach you the basics of a good navigation. Navigation is everything that has to do with guiding your visitors through your website. You should help your visitors to find what they look for at your site. In the previous section, we have told you the basics of attracting people to your website. In this section, we will teach you how to help people find what they look for once they are actually on your website! This section contains a number of chapters in which we go over your website from top to bottom. In this journey weâ€™ll stop at every navigational elements we encounter and share our thoughts on this option. Sometimes we will include insight from SEO, or effects on user experience, for using that option. Finally, we have also included a few remarks on navigation on your mobile website.
Introduction to navigation Why do we need navigation? Imagine yourself being lost. Being lost without knowing how far you have to travel. Without any sense of where you are and especially no sense of where you need to go. Thatâ€™s probably how your visitor will feel when your website would lack any navigational features.
Many navigational elements Luckily every website seems to have some kind of navigation. Navigational features are not limited to your menu and submenu. There are many ways of navigating through your website, although we do not label these as such. In fact, we recommend making your menu as short as possible, and trust the visitor will find the other ways to navigate your website. Understand that every internal link on your website helps the visitor navigate. That could be a single link in your text, your breadcrumbs or a footer link. But it could also be a list of categories in your sidebar.
A top-down approach of your navigation In this section we will analyze your navigational features, based upon an imaginary map of your web page. This map is based upon the default layout of a website, using a header, content area, right sidebar and a footer. We will refer to those as respectively North, West, East and South.
Figure 7: imaginary map of your web page.
Travelling your website In Jonathan Swift’s well-known novel Gulliver’s Travels (1726), we find a man that is lost at sea after shipwrecking. That totally resembles Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), with one major difference: Robinson had nowhere to go but the Island of Despair, while Gulliver travels on to end up on four different locations before finally heading home. Fun fact is that Gulliver visited the island with Yahoos last, where everybody is using Google now. On your website, you just want Gullivers, not Robinsons. Everybody that gets lost on your website, should have a clear and visible escape route to 58
get to the next island, right? There are a lot of ways to give that visitor directions to navigate your website, and while we discuss a lot of these in this section weâ€™re sure youâ€™ll be able to come up with more. The following chapters are meant to make you recognise and use the navigational options your site has, to improve your user experience, usability and SEO along the way.
Top menu navigation: coming in from the North Now let’s imagine a visitor travelling over your web page, entering from the upper left – the North - of your browser.
The Back button One of the most clicked features in a browser is probably the Back button of the browser itself. If we end up on a page where we can’t find what we are looking for, a simple click will bring us back to a page we already know. It’s as simple as that. The quickest escape from an unwanted situation. Unfortunately, the Back button is not something we can control. The use of it however clearly tells us that we need clear crossroads in our website. We need to have pages that redirect us to other sections of the website. A page is never a dead end, there should always be a way back.
Yoast Tip Make sure your visitors canâ€™t get lost. Make sure that every page has a clear escape to get back to the previous page and to the homepage.
Top navigation We refer to the navigation options entirely on top of your website (above your main menu) as top navigation. The top navigation is often overlooked, but provides valuable background information for your website. Some websites include home and contact links in the top navigation. These are actually often a bit too important to put in your top navigation. You would want a more prominent place for these. When dividing your website in topics, you will find yourself left with a number of menu items that do not fit the main menu (more on that later) in any way. Letâ€™s mention a few to make this more clear: Login Terms Search
Documentation Register Feedback
All these links are candidates for your top navigation. These are the links we need, not the links we need to focus on.
Logo Most websites give a prominent place to their logo somewhere in the north. This is your unique feature, your lighthouse. There is no page on your website that is not branded with your logo, if youâ€™ve set up your web pages the right way.
Logo links to homepage It would be a wasted navigational option not to link that logo. Even on your sales pages, where you may have reduced all noise by getting rid of your main menu, the logo lighthouse will provide a nice, warm link back to your homepage. Every ship lost at sea will then find its way back to that safe harbor.
Trinity Sometimes people make the mistake to link the logo to another page than the homepage. Do not make that mistake! The logo should always link to your homepage. It is part of a trinity; the first item in the main menu, the first item in breadcrumbs and the logo. All these three should always link to your homepage. It will be the lifeline for the drowning visitor. Grab on to one of these and find yourself back on the homepage.
Main menu At this point we are crossing a border from our most northern territory to the main section of our web page. That border, the main navigation, 62
is also called your global navigation. It’s not always a horizontal navigation and it’s not always global, but that is just one of the terms introduced to indicate the main menu on your website. Other names are top-level, persistent or primary navigation. But in the end it’s your main menu, right? The main menu indicates the various sections of your website in a clear and informative way. That global navigation should consist of a number (not too much) main menu items that tell the visitor which corner of your website should be visited for what information. In chapter 5 we already gave practical insights in structuring your website. Your main menu should reflect the structure of your website. Do not flood the menu with unrelated items but think about which categories make sense to your visitors.
Submenu The submenu should contain details of the main menu item. When the main item is Apple, the submenu should read something like iPhone, iPad, Mac, iTunes. Note that these submenu items should also be present on the Apple page. There are many ways to add a submenu, the most common is where the submenu drops down below the main menu item when hovering your mouse over that item.
Figure 8: a submenu which drops down when hovering your mouse over the main menu item. The downwards pointing arrow shows a submenu exist.
Yoast Tip Add an indication (like a downwards pointing arrow) in your main menu item to show that it contains a submenu. Otherwise, visitors will not know that a submenu exists!
Navigation in main content: the Wild West Main content When we travel down from the North, going counterclockwise, we enter the Wild West. This is where the magic happens, some will say. In a default website layout, this is indeed your main content area. This is where your company information is, or where we will find your blog posts. The main content (or the wild west) might just be the most overlooked part of your website when it comes to links and navigational options for your website. Yet there are many ways to offer navigation here. The navigational options are not always prominent or obvious, but without even knowing it yourself, this is where you can most easily guide your visitor. As the visitor has already decided on reading that specific page, what would be more easy than offer related content in that main part of your website as well? In this chapter, we will give you some navigational options to use in the main content part of your site.
Breadcrumbs You’ll want to add breadcrumbs to your single posts and pages. Breadcrumbs are the links, usually above the title post, that look like: Home » WordPress » WordPress Plugins. They are good for two things. First of all, they allow your users to easily navigate through your site. And secondly, they allow search engines to determine the structure of your site more easily.
These breadcrumbs should link back to the homepage, and the category the post is in. If the post is in multiple categories it should pick one.
Yoast Tip The Yoast WordPress SEO plugin actually helps you to create breadcrumbs fairly easy.
Make sure your website has a nice internal structure, like discussed in chapter 5. We often hear people say things like: “My website only has two layers: home and the page at hand. So breadcrumbs are useless.” Our question in this case would immediately be: “Why haven’t you structured your content a bit better?” Breadcrumbs make valuable internal links, and provide a simple, structural navigation. If your website has multiple levels of content, you want breadcrumbs.
Yoast Tip Breadcrumbs improve the navigation of your site, but are valuable for SEO as well.
On-page navigation At Yoast, we don’t mind scrolling. We love long, textual content. If you want to be the authority on a subject, you should be able to write a whole lot about it. That’s also how Google will see this. If you want a page to rank with three lines of text, even Google will smile and give you lower rankings for the page or not rank you at all (see also chapter 7 on SEO copywriting). Now with long pages, there is a simple way to improve usability of that page: by adding on-page navigation. Just create links that refer to a place in the article below. At yoast.com, we use this for instance for our main SEO for WordPress article. There is actually quite a lengthy index on that page. An added benefit is that the anchors on the page itself allow us to link directly to a chapter on that page.
Teaser blocks/Call-to-action blocks When making a list of navigational options, we almost forgot teaser blocks. Teaser blocks are not the first things that come to mind when listing navigational options. We’re not even sure that is the right terminology for these blocks, but calling them teasers seems to cover their purpose. 67
These blocks populate your homepage or sidebar and have a distinct navigational use. As secondary calls-to-action, for instance, they guide the visitor to the green meadows of your website: your main or money pages. Teaser blocks actually work very well. We sometimes wonder why websites that sell a product or service are using Google Adsense to make an extra buck instead of creating nice, appealing product banners that ‘lure’ the visitor to the right sales page. Why use valuable space on your website for another product than your own?
Yoast Tip New templates, such as templates from StudioPress or WooThemes, and our own WordPress Themes, reserve space for these teasers. Where old themes were mainly about sliders and widgets, new themes seem to take calls-to-action and textual teasers in account.
Pagination People do not want to click through an endless collection of posts. Suppose your blog has 1,000 articles and you’re listing 10 articles per page, that would give you a hundred archive pages. If you would link these pages just by adding an Older (Previous) posts link and a Newer (Next) posts link, that would mean you would have to click 99 times to get to the last page. There is no need to make it that hard.
By adding a numbered pagination, linking for instance the first, second, third, tenth, twentieth, thirtieth, up to the ninetieth and last page, you would reduce that number of clicks to five. Jumping every 20 pages will already lower that number to 10, of course. Pagination will allow your users to click through your archive in a rather simple way.
Figure 9: you don’t want to click each page to get to page 50.
Figure 10: you should be able to skip pages.
Categorizing and tagging your content WordPress offers the possibility to create structure while writing your posts. It has two ways of doing this: you can use categories and you can use tags. The difference is that categories are hierarchical, so you can have sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, whereas tags are unstructured. You can compare the categories to the table of contents of your website, and tags as the Index. Both of these are called taxonomies within the WordPress world and you could add more of them if you wanted to. Category and tag themselves don’t convey much meaning. But if you added another taxonomy called Region, it’d be immediately obvious that those should hold all the keywords related to the location of the article. You could add this as a hierarchical taxonomy and create a Continent » Country » Region structure, or you 69
could make it free form (tags). Both have their benefits, but choose wisely, as changing from one to the other is a painful process. At Yoast, we prefer using categories for high level topic specification and tags for more specific topic specification. So SEO is a category, XML sitemap or HTML sitemap would be a tag. If you use these taxonomies in a recognizable way, people will use them to navigate your website if theyâ€™re looking for a specific topic. And that was our goal, wasnâ€™t it?
Make taxonomies visible! A lot of people forget to make their taxonomies visible to a visitor. What would be the use of these taxonomies in that case? So your posts are nicely archived for yourself? That would be a waste of that taxonomy. In some themes, the categories and tags are instantly shown as you add them to your post. But, some themes neglect to do so. You should make sure these tags and categories are in fact shown, preferably at the bottom of your article.
Taxonomies can go wrong! A lot could go wrong with taxonomies when people start using them randomly. The structure of your taxonomies is important. As taxonomies group your content, you should keep in mind where these could be used, how they are used and where they are linked. Do not create too many categories. Do not create too many tags. Make sure tags are used more than once or twice.
Yoast Tip Don’t go creating a list of categories longer than Rapunzel’s hair. That will mean you have probably gone overboard creating categories. We usually recommend eight to ten categories. If you ‘need’ more, you might consider adding more taxonomies, not categories. If half of your categories is about people, why not add a People taxonomy instead.
Sidebar: in the East For the visitor that is still lost after going over the top and left sides of your website, the right of your (default) website contains a sidebar that could help him or her find that one page theyâ€™re looking for. The sidebar is suitable for a number of lists and widgets.
Listings The sidebar is especially well suited for a few types of listings. In chapter 11 we already discussed taxonomies, categories and tags. Taxonomies are great navigational features. People can easily grasp the structure of your website by navigating through your taxonomies. A list of your categories could also be added to your sidebar providing this list is not too long. Adding a list with 100 categories in your sidebar, would be plain stupid. Please keep the total number of links per page around 50 max. That might seem a bit low for your website, but if you keep your menu short and focussed and do not add a surplus of unnecessary links to your sidebar and footer, youâ€™ll really have to push to get 50 links on that page.
Recent posts A recent post widget is a great way to remind your visitors you also have a blog and tell them about all the latest things you have written. It really doesnâ€™t matter if these posts are company related or deal with market insights. If you frequently update your blog (or news section), that recent posts section in your sidebar will be filled with interesting reading material for your visitors.
Recent comments If you have an active blog, and you invite your visitors to comment on your posts, a recent comments section could also be valuable. If youâ€™ve built an active community around your website or brand, comments could be a way for the community to make themselves heard.
Yoast Tip A recent comments widget can be very helpful! People might comment on a post using keywords they use themselves in search, which might help you rank for these as well or at least invite you to vary your keyword use with these alternatives. But comments might also give you ideas for new posts. Showing you have an active community will entice others to visit your blog section as well.
Teasers and banners The sidebar probably contains a lot more links or more teasers. These could for instance be banners for your own products you sell on our website.
Search option If your website has over twenty nice, long pages, there will need to be a search option. This search form should either be in the top of your sidebar, or in your header. We tend to prefer the top of the sidebar. We also recommend saving a prominent spot for your search option on your 404 page. When lost, you can find what you are looking for.
Search result page Adding a search option to your website does come with the responsibility to create great search result pages as well. Unfortunately this is often overlooked. Just adding the WordPress search functionality does not provide you with these great search result pages (nor the best results, to be honest).
Yoast Tip Plugins like Relevanssi or WP Search for instance order posts by relevancy instead of date (WordPress default) and highlight the keyword that was used in the text snippet below the title in search result pages.
Footer: in the South The footer of your website is for all the information that is not your main content, but should be listed on your website. No, letâ€™s rephrase that: There are two types of footers, the one with just the copyright and some extra links, and footers that contain footer blocks with information. That information can be an address, a short contact form, payment options or quality and security marks. But there most probably will also be links.
Footer links What not to do? When adding links to your footer, always wonder if that link deserves to be tucked away in that footer. Repeating your main menu items for instance. Now why would you want to do that? Your menu is already on that page and if you want that menu to be available for the visitor that scrolled all the way down, why not simply stick that menu to the top of the browser? Hence the name sticky menu. When we decided to build themes, the (mobile and) sticky menu were the first things we decided these themes should have. Itâ€™s just very convenient to have that menu present at all 75
times. Repeating the menu in the footer seems a bit silly, to be honest. Why sacrifice that space to repeat something that is already on your site.
Figure 11: sticky menu
What to do? It would make sense to list your categories, recent posts or comments, for instance when there is no sidebar in your design. You just have to make sure these footer links are useful for the visitor. When in doubt, the link probably isnâ€™t useful. Common links that we find in footers are of course terms of delivery, copyright links, perhaps another link to your contact page. Besides asking yourself if that link should be added, also ask yourself if that link needs to pass on link juice to the next page. Add a rel=nofollow to that terms of delivery link. That page does not need to rank anyway. These links can be found in the larger footer area with blocks, or in the final line of your website, right after the copyright statement.
HTML sitemap The footer is also a good place to link to your HTML sitemap. There should be an HTML sitemap available when your website exceeds about 20 76
pages. Your HTML sitemap lists all the pages and posts on your website. If you structure your HTML sitemap into clear sections for pages and posts and more, the sitemap could be a visitorâ€™s last resort. When even search fails, the HTML sitemap could be used to find that related post, or the category you did not list in your sidebar. For Google, that HTML sitemap is nice to get to all your pages, but you probably already presented it with an XML sitemap as well, right? In that case, the focus in the HTML sitemap should really be on making it a user friendly document that could start the journey all over again.
Mobile website Now that we have travelled the entire website map, we are left with that one island that remains: the mobile website.
Yoast Tip Make sure your links are clickable on a mobile phone. Weâ€™re not just referring to your telephone number. If, for instance, your sidebar contains a list of categories, make sure one can click one link at a time, and the sidebar is not crammed with links, so clicking one is nearly impossible without zooming. There needs to be sufficient white space around that link.
Mobile menu We all know that hamburger icon, adding that as a substitute for your menu seems logical: itâ€™s a space saver. Most menuâ€™s drop down to the bottom, but some fold out to the left or right. The main advantage of the left menu is that you can use the entire height of the screen for the navigation, where for instance the much used TwentyTwelve theme by WordPress has this drop down menu below the logo/site name, meaning there is less vertical space to use for the menu. On the other hand, that might help you to keep your menu short and focused.
Figure 12: Hamburger menu;
Figure 13: TwentyTwelve: drop
drop down to the bottom
down menu below logo/name
TwentyTwelve actually does not use that hamburger image for the menu. It just uses the word Menu. That does seem to make more sense than the hamburger icon in the middle of your website! Your mobile menu should stay focused, especially when your website also has a drop down menu. Consider creating great landing pages for your main menu items and just forget about the submenu for your mobile website. It will be more convenient to focus on mobile search instead.
Mobile search Perhaps the most important navigational option for a mobile website is the search option. If you have a huge website with hundreds of pages or 79
more, why bother listing all these pages in a menu when a visitor could just search for it in a second after arriving on your website? Make sure the search option is clearly visible in either your mobile top bar or simply in the website itself.
In-text links Finally we would like to mention the links within your texts itself. We have seen websites that have added extra padding (whitespace) around these links as well. And why shouldn’t you? Thumb-thickness is a factor in how useful these links are on a mobile websites. Also take line height in
Figure 14: two examples of line height
Further reading In this section we have taught you how to help your visitors through your site. If you want to read more about Navigation and Usability, check out yoast.com. We wrote a whole bunch of blog posts on Usability.
Sales by Thijs de Valk
About this section In the previous sections we taught you the basics of SEO and of how to help your visitors navigate through your website. In this section we will explain how to get sales from your website and we’ll guide you in improving your webshop. We will use insights from psychology which are useful in directing your visitors and give some tips about what you should think about to ‘close the deal’. In the first chapter, we will give practical tips you can use to easily improve the sales of your website. In the next and final chapter of this section we will specifically look at the checkout process.
Making money with your website Creating a shop A WordPress site can easily be transformed in a webshop. There are numerous plugins that add the functionality you need to make your website a webshop. We would recommend to use either Woocommerce or Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) to create your shop.
WooCommerce If you have, or want to start, a webshop selling physical product, WooÂCommerce is definitely the way to go. This plugin instantly converts your WordPress based website to a shop and is fairly easy to use. This free plugin makes it easy to display your products, adds the functionality you need to let your customers pay for their stuff and helps you to manage your inventory.
Yoast Tip Easily combine your WooCommerce webshop and our WordPress SEO plugin with our Yoast WooCommerce SEO plugin, making sure your webshop ranks in the search engines.
Easy Digital Downloads If, instead of physical products, youâ€™re selling digital products, we would recommend Easy Digital Downloads. This plugin might not look as pretty, 84
but it offers a boatload of addons that make sure you can alter everything you want. We’re actually using Easy Digital Downloads ourselves at yoast.com.
The goal of your webshop Before you can start selling anything on your website, you’ll have to have a very clear picture of what it is you want to do with your website. We have already covered this in chapter 4 concerning keyword research. Before you do anything, you should write down your mission! What do you sell? Why should people buy it from you? What makes your product unique? Make sure your mission is clear in your mind as well as on your website. What will you be offering exactly? Do not think too lightly of this. It is really hard to have (and keep) clearly in mind what it is you want to do. To show you, we’ve made a list of questions you should be able to answer after you’ve thought it all through: What is your core business? • What can people do with the products / services you’re selling on your
website? • Why should people buy your products / services? • How will your products / services enhance your clients’ lives? • Why should people buy the products / services on your website and
not on an other (f.i. cheaper or better known) website? • What’s the reason you’re offering these products / services, besides
You should be able to answer all these questions quickly, clearly and succinctly. Having an answer to these questions means you have a clear idea of what it is you want. And you really need to have that idea clear, before you can start selling it! People will simply not buy anything from you, if your idea is not clear. People just don’t like vague products or shops. Especially the last question in the summary is a hard one to answer. Most people so quickly jump on the financial bandwagon, saying they want to make lots of money. We urge you to think beyond that and really think about what you’re offering and why. Because if you don’t believe in your own products or services, there’s no chance your potential customers will.
Funneling your visitors: conversion rate optimization In the previous sections you’ve learnt how you can get as much traffic as possible to your website (section SEO) and how to make your website easily navigable for these visitors (section Navigation). In this chapter we’ll show you how to direct your visitors to the places you want them to go. That’s what’s we call funneling: guiding your visitors towards a desired end point. You are aiming to convert your visitors to a sale. In the field of sales, people often talk about conversions or conversion rates. A high conversion rate means that many visitors on your website actually buy a product. Conversion means that you turn a visitor into a paying customer or a returning visitor. Conversion rates are usually very low (often lower than 1 percent). Trying to increase your conversion is 86
known as conversion rate optimization. In this chapter we will give you some tips how to optimize your conversion. At Yoast, we also offer Conversion Reviews in which we analyze your entire webshop and give loads of tips how to optimize your conversion. In chapter 19 we will give more detailed information about conversion rate optimization.
Call-to-action The most important thing when trying to funnel your visitors, is that you have focus on your website. Focus means that new visitors should be able to see what your website is about within 5 seconds. This can be achieved using so called call-to-actions. A call-to-action is an element on your website â€“ usually a button â€“ which shows your desired result for the visit immediately.
If you have a webshop the call-to-action would link directly to your shop. The text on the call-to-action would then say something like Shop Now. Such a button would instantly make clear to visitors what kind of website it is.
Figure 15: a clear call-to-action on www.cheapair.com 87
You’ll have to make sure that these calls-to-action actually stand out in the design of your website. The buttons have to be eye catching. A button that doesn’t stand out is at risk of visitors completely missing it. And if people miss it, it obviously won’t call anyone to action. Make your call-to-action
stand out by giving it a bright color you haven’t used in your website yet.
Figure 16: two examples of a call-to-action button
Product pages Visitors should become more and more informed about your product when they’re moving towards your product page. If you’re selling physical products, you should try to make it as much as the ‘real thing’ as you can. What are the odds you’d buy a product in a physical shop based on a piece of paper with a small picture and sloppy description? You should attempt to mimic the experience of viewing and turning a product in a store. Make sure people can decently view your product. Offer high resolution images, from all angles, which people can zoom in on. Possibly even videos or 3D images that people can turn around themselves, mimicking the experience of viewing and turning a product in a store.
Figure 17: video and images from all angles on amazon.com
Yoast Tip Try to create an ambience through your textual and visual content that evoke the same type of response from your visitors as in the real store. Such an ambience through text can be achieved by, for instance, not just describing the product, but describing your own reaction to it. Approaching your descriptive content this way will give it a lot more depth and value.
Social proof Online marketing in many aspects is not that different than other types of marketing. In trying to convince people to buy your stuff, you can use the insights from social psychology and marketing. What influences people? We know that other people are a very important factor in convincing people to buy or try something. People trust a product a lot more when other people, preferably friends or people who are similar to themselves, have told them itâ€™s good. This principle is called social proof. If you sell products or services on your website, you can easily use social proof to your advantage.
Testimonials Have people leave testimonials or reviews on your website and your products. This will work even if your visitors donâ€™t know the people that left the review. You need legitimate testimonials. Make sure your testimonials look legit. So post as much information with the testimonials as you can (name, job, picture, etc.). Having decent testimonials and reviews will definitely convince people to click on your call-to-action.
The checkout process Introduction In the previous chapter we gave tips how to funnel your visitors through your website. We also gave some tips how to increase your sales. But what do you do when people click on your call-to-action button and go to your checkout process? In this chapter will teach you the basics how to improve your checkout page. The last step in your process is always the checkout page; your website’s cash register. Although a lot of your visitors might go here, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually buy your products. Make sure you’re being clear enough and offer them enough feedback and validation so they know they’re heading the right way. Make them want to complete the order.
Shopping cart abandonment In the checkout process you’ll usually still lose a lot of people. These people do not finish their sale. This is a bit weird: in a real shop it would be like people adding items to their basket, going to the counter, letting you scan all the items and tell them the total price. And then, they would leave. Without paying, without products. In a physical shop, this does not happen that often. On the internet, it is quite common. Read more about shopping cart abandonment in one of Thijs’ posts. Luckily, there are quite a few things that can really help you to let your visitors actually complete their transaction.
Progress bar Make clear to your visitors how far along in the checkout process they actually are. You can easily do this by adding a progress bar. A progress bar is a bar, that shows the progress of your visitors! It will give structure to the process, explaining people how far along they are in the shopping process. Every step of your checkout process should be in this progress bar.The progress bar also gamifies the process of buying something. This means that people want to make it to the end of the process, simply to reach the end of the progress bar. After completing one step, you should give a clear ‘pat on the back’, like: ‘you have successfully filled out your address!’ Make sure that your progress bar shows the steps your visitors have already completed.
Yoast Tip Do not make your checkout process to long (5 steps is long enough!). Gamifying will not work in long checkout processes, people will get tired of your checkout process then.
Inline validation Inline validation means that you give your visitors immediate feedback on whether they’ve done the right thing. In your checkout process you could 92
add a check which immediately shows people whether they used a valid email address, home address or credit card number.
Or not so much:
This will prevent people from making a lot of mistakes and then having to refill everything. Also, it makes people feel good to get validated. It’s a bit difficult if you cannot write code, but it is definitely worth it if you have the technical skills. In you want to read more about inline validation, please read Joost’s post on checkout field validation tips and tricks.
Increase cache expiration time Don’t you just love it when the shopkeeper still knows your name and what product(s) you were looking at the day or week before? People love that same thing with online shops. They want to be able to leave items sitting in their cart, feeling safe it’ll still be there later on. About 30% of people wait for at least 12 hours until they make their purchase. So you need to make sure you’re saving all this data! The best way to do this would be by increasing the cache expiration time on your checkout pages. You can read more about caching in chapter 24 about speed.
Further reading In this section we gave tips about how to make money with your website. You should now by able to create and optimize your webshop in WordPress. At yoast.com, we often write posts about making money with your website and about Conversion Rate Optimization. These posts are great options for further reading.
Analytics by Annelieke van den Berg
About this section Oh man, do we love data! We are not just WordPress geeks, we are data geeks as well. Thatâ€™s why we are so delighted with Google Analytics. Google Analytics gives us the opportunity to analyze the number of visitors on our website. It can give a lot of information on how you can make your websites even better. In this section weâ€™d like to show you what Google Analytics is, and explain how Google Analytics can help you improve your website.
What is Google Analytics? In this chapter we’ll explain how Google Analytics works. In the next chapter in this section (chapter 18) we’ll explain how you can use the data Google Analytics provides to improve your website.
What is Google Analytics? Google Analytics is a tool that tracks the visitors on your website. It actually provides insightful statistics of your website. Google Analytics can give you detailed information about: • How many visitors have been and currently are on your website. • Where those visitors came from. • How much time a visitor spends on your page(s). • Which pages a visitor visits subsequently. • Where and when visitors leave your site. • Page speed. • If your visitors watch a video or download a PDF file. • How your visitors go through your sales process. • and much more...
How to use Google Analytics If you want to track your website’s statistics, you should start by creating a Google Analytics account. In order to start tracking your visitors, you 97
Universal Analytics Google has launched a new version of Google Analytics in 2013, which is called Universal Analytics. At Yoast, we’re already playing and testing with Universal Analytics. It is a very powerful new way of doing things, which improves upon the original Google Analytics. In September 2014 Yoast lauched a new Google Analytics plugin, which allows for integration with Universal Analytics. You can read more about our new plugin (and how to switch to Universal Analytics) on our Google Analytics page at Yoast.com.
Learn from Google Analytics Although Google Analytics can give you great insights, its usability leaves quite a bit of room for improvement. People that are new to Google Analytics can become easily overwhelmed, so we’ll guide you with a step by step introduction. Google Analytics has its own academy and YouTube channel, but in our opinion the fastest way to learn how it works, is simply by going in there. You’ll find a lot of useful statistics just by clicking through Google Analytics and trying some things. You should make sure that you’re in the Reporting tab. 98
Figure 18: dashboard Google Analytics Reporting
What kind of statistics does Google Analytics offer? Real-Time After opening Google Analytics, you can choose to view a number of different statistics. In the sidebar on the left, you can click on Real-Time. This will show you how many visitors are on your website right at this moment. You can see which devices people use (desktop, mobile phone), which pages are viewed and from which location your visitors come. Looking at RealTime statistics is fun, because you can monitor how many visitors are at your site and what theyâ€™re looking at. But keep in mind that this is all it is: data on what your visitors are doing right now. This isnâ€™t really useful for anything besides fun, and maybe checking if the post you just published is getting some immediate visitors.
Audience The next tab in Google Analytics is Audience. The audience section is Google Analytics’ attempt to give you an idea of what kind of audience your site has. The Demographics and Interests tabs tell you what gender and age your visitors are, and what they’re interested in. However, there’s obviously no way Google Analytics can be sure about who’s behind a pc, tablet or smartphone, so don’t read too much into this. So lets talk about the useful data you can be sure about: the Behavior, Technology and Mobile tabs. These tabs tell you whether a visitors is on your site for the first time or how many times they’ve been on your site before. And it will tell you what kind of device and software they used to view your site. This is all information that you can use to improve your site. For instance, if you have a lot of traffic from smartphones, you’d better have a decent responsive website! There are two menu items we didn’t mention yet: Custom and Users Flow. The Custom tab is there for any custom dimensions or variables you might’ve made. This is definitely for more advanced users, so we’re not going into it here. The Users Flow can be a great tool to get a general idea and quick overview of how your visitors move through your site.
Yoast Tip Look at pie charts for a quick and understandable overview.
Acquisition The Acquisition tab is the tab where you can find out where your visitors are actually coming from. It gives you all the websites that are referring to your website, including search engines such as Google. Google Analytics splits these referrals into 7 different so called Channels: 1 Direct 2 Organic Search 3 Referral 4 Social 5 Display 6 Email 7 (Other)
The Direct is exactly that: visitors that type your URL directly into their browser. Organic Search is all the traffic coming from search engines. Referrals are all websites referring to your site that aren’t social media. Social is for all the traffic coming from social media. Display is for all the traffic coming from ads you have on other sites. Email is obviously for traffic coming from email campaigns. And (Other) is for campaigns you’ve created yourself. By organizing it in these channels, you can actually quickly see where most of your traffic is coming from. For more detailed information, you can simply click any one of these channels. If you do this with the Organic Search channel, you’ll notice the ‘np’ in front of your URLs. NP stands for ‘Not Provided’, as Google no longer gives you any keyword data. This means you can’t see what people searched for to end up on that specific page. All the other menu items below the Acquisition section are primarily for advanced users, so we won’t go into them here. But do click through them a bit just to see what else you can find!
Behavior The Behavior tab is for all the information about how your visitors behave on your website. What this means is that it contains all the information of how your website’s visitors interact with your website. What pages do they visit consecutively, have they used your site search, how much time have they spent waiting for your pages to load, etc. You’ll notice a Behavior Flow that’s very similar to the User Flow we already talked about. However, the most interesting data will be found under Site Content, Site Search and In-Page Analytics. The Site Content section will give you a good idea of which pages attract the most visitors. The pages are ranked by pageviews by default, with the pages with the most pageviews on top. These are usually pretty similar to the Landing Pages you’ll find below it. Below the Landing Pages, you’ll find the Exit Pages. This will give you a list of pages with the most Exits. Knowing these pages makes it easy to learn which pages you should focus on when optimizing your website. The Site Search section gives you insight in what people search for on your website and where they end up. This can give you a really good idea of what people are actually looking for and if your website is offering those things. If you find things that people are searching for, but you don’t have any real content on yet, be sure to add it!
One of the cooler things, in our opinion, of Google Analytics is the In-Page Analytics feature. What this does, is render your website inside Google Analytics, and it will tell you how many people clicked where. This can give you great insight in how people are using your website, and if theyâ€™re actually using it the way you thought they were.
Yoast Tip Google has released a Chrome extension for Page Analytics that allows instant access to the In-Page Analytics for a page by just clicking on a button from that page.
Conversion The last tab in the list in the Conversion tab. When a visitor purchases a product or subscribes for a newsletter we call these actions conversions (see chapter 15 on making money with your website and chapter 19 on A / B-testing). You can track your conversions by setting up goals. If you have a webshop or any kind of (contact)form and / or email subscription on your website, setting up goals is the way to go when analyzing your conversion rate. If you would like to track your conversions you should 104
read Thijs’ post on setting up goals in Google Analytics. If you still think setting up goals is a too advanced far for you, we can also do it for you. Click here for more information. We won’t go into this section further, because it’s actually for the more advanced Google Analytics users and requires a lot of extra settings before anything will show up. However, if you own a webshop, this is definitely a section you should be filling with data, because that’s invaluable!
Yoast Tip If you want to know more about the specifics of a certain report in Google Analytics, you can watch the instruction videos Google Analytics offers. We’ve found them to be really helpful.
Improving your website with Google Analytics Introduction In the previous chapter we have explained how Google Analytics works. In this chapter, we will show you what you can do with the data Google Analytics provides. We will give some examples how to use the statistics of Google Analytics to your advantage. Also, we provide some handy tips you can use to reduce and analyze the wealth of data you can find in Google Analytics.
Ask questions Google Analytics provides lots and lots of data. It tracks everything, literally everything. And everythingâ€Ś can sometimes be a bit overwhelming! Just because Google Analytics tracks everything, does not mean you have to use or analyze everything. Ask yourself what you want to know about the visitors on your site. Try to really think about the data you would want to see (within the possibilities of Google Analytics).
Setting a time frame The first thing you need to learn, is actually really simple. You need to select the time frame for which you want to see the data from your website. In the top right of every window in Google Analytics (except 106
when you’re in the Real-Time section), you will see two dates with a dropdown. If you drop that window down, this will appear:
Here you can set the time frame that you think is useful. Once you change it, every section you’ll be looking at will be rendered for this time frame. You can go as far back as you want, from a few days to a few years, granted that you had the Google Analytics tracking code installed on your website. So always keep this in mind and always be sure you have the right time frame set!
Using filter options One of the more useful features of Google Analytics, is the filter feature. With this, you can filter out any ‘noise’ you don’t want to see, so you’ll end up with exactly those parts of your traffic you want to be seeing at that point. On just about any page in Google Analytics, you’ll see this after you’ve clicked the advanced text link: advanced
In here you can choose to include or exclude any number of things. For example, on yoast.com, if we want to see just the traffic for the / hire-us / pages, we can simply include any page containing /hire-us / in the URL. This will automatically exclude any page that doesn’t contain / hire-us /. If you want just one page, such as a subpage of the / hire-us / part, you’ll need to be more specific, for instance: / hire-us / website-review /. Obviously, if you want to see all the traffic except that of one page or section of your site, you simply select Exclude instead of Include in the first dropdown (see image). The reason this filter option is so useful, is because Google Analytics tracks everything that’s happening on your site, usually. This means it’s also tracking a lot of pages that only get visited once in a blue moon. Although it is good that Google Analytics tracks these pages, these pages can also skew your data a lot. So to filter these pages, you need to select the Unique Pageviews option:
Depending on the time frame you have selected, you can fill in any number to filter out the least visited pages, and focus just on the high traffic volume pages. Just have a look through all the options you can find in these filters. They can actually differ depending on which section you’re presently at. In any case, filters can definitely make your life a lot easier and help you focus your data on the parts of your website that actually matters.
Analyzing the bounce rate We call it a ‘bounce’ when a visitor enters your website and instantly leaves again, without interacting with the page at all. The bounce rate tells you how high the percentage of visitors is that immediately leave your website after ‘landing’ on it. A high bounce rate could indicate a couple of things: • Poor usability, visitors don’t know where to click or find the information
they need. • It could be that visitors expected something else from your website. • Your site could rank for the ‘wrong’ keywords. • People respond poorly to low speed. • And bad design is a possible cause.
However, it’s hard to say when a bounce rate is high or low because that depends completely on the type of website you have. A ‘normal’ bounce rate usually lies between 40 and 70 percent.
You can find information on your website’s bounce rate in the Site Content section below Behavior. The only useful place to check your bounce rate is at the Landing Pages. These are the pages where your visitors have entered your site. Using the filters we’ve described above, you’ll be able to see which one of your landing pages has a bounce rate that you consider too high. Obviously don’t forget to order by bounce rate, by clicking on the Bounce Rate column. If you have specific pages with a high bounce rate, you should look at these pages. These pages are obviously not giving the visitors what they expect. Ask yourself what the cause of this could be. Could you improve the call-to-action, to make the page more clear? Maybe the page is relatively slow, making people leave? Or maybe you’re just not getting to your point quickly enough? Think about all these things, and be sure you keep improving your high bounce rate pages.
Analyzing the exit rate For all the pages that aren’t your landing pages, you should be using the Exit Rate, instead of the Bounce Rate. Lets explain the difference. Bounce Rate is when someone immediately bounces back to where they came from, like a ball bouncing off a wall. Exit Rate is when someone leaves your site from a certain page, after having already browsed either a significant period of time on your site, or having browsed multiple pages on your site. 110
The Exit Rate can be especially helpful for pages in certain consecutive pages, called funnels. For instance, your checkout could consist of multiple pages. The trick with getting the important pages that have a too high exit rate is to go to All Pages and sort your pages by Page Value. This will show all the pages with the highest page value on top. Now, you’ll have to set a filter that will filter out all pages with an exit rate that’s lower than 50%. Obviously, if this is 99% of your website, you should go for a lower percentage. On top of this, you set another filter that will show only the pages with a 1000 unique pageviews, or whatever is relevant for your website.
Now you’ll have a view of high exit rate pages with a (relatively) high value. These are the pages that are most important, which we’ve dubbed the Intensive Care Pages. Any improvements you can make on these pages, will immediately translate into a higher revenue. Less people leaving your valuable pages, means more people buying your products. Simple, right?
Yoast Tip You can read more about Intensive Care Pages and how to plan their improvement in our post on Planning and Checking your Conversion Rate Optimization. 111
Further reading In this section, we have explained the very basics of Google Analytics. If you want to know more about the possibilities of Google Analytics, you should definitely look into the training videos and tutorials Google Analytics offers. Be aware that Google Analytics is only one of many packages that exist to track your statistics. Other packages for examples are getclicky or Mint. On yoast.com we wrote many blog posts on Analytics, both Google Analytics as other packages.
Conversion Research by Marieke van de Rakt and Thijs de Valk
About this section In this section, we will teach you the basics of doing research on your website. Aim of this research is to improve your sales. In the first chapter weâ€™ll go into A / B testing and whatâ€™s involved when you want to set them up. It takes a lot more than just whipping some tests, so read thoroughly. The next chapter will teach you the basics of survey-research.
A / B Tests What is A / B testing? A / B testing means you’ll test the page of a website as it is now (A), against a variation of that page (B). The idea is that you test which version results in the most conversions: the most sales, or the most returning visitors. You could for instance change the color of your call-to-action-button, to see if that leads to more clicks and sales.
In your optimization process, A / B testing is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get results. When your website is important for your business, you should realize this: optimization is never over. Optimizing your website using A / B testing really is a continuous and on-going process.
Hypothesize first Before making any A and B variations, it’s really important to think about what you’re going to do. If you want to run a test, you should first hypothesize. You should be able to explain what you’re changing on your website and why. What effect do you think the change will have? And what are you basing that expectation on?
One way to come up with ideas for changes in (the design of) your website is to look for other people or websites that have (had) similar issues. What works for other website, could well work for your site as well! You should start by reading about Usability and Conversion on yoast.com or on Wheel of Persuasion. Reading this book (especially the sections on Navigation and Sales) should definitely give you idea’s about possibly improvements! In chapter 16 we told you that adding a progress bar could help increase your sale, because such a progress bar gamifies the checkout process. You could run an A /B-test to check whether a progress bar in fact increases the sales on your website as well. Your hypothesis then is that version B (with progress bar) will get more conversions because people will be more willing to complete the checkout because of the gamification. Doing A / B-test while formulating hypotheses, will prevent yourself from running tests that make no sense at all. And not running tests that you don’t need in the first place saves you time. And as they say: time is money. Or at least you could’ve been passed out on the couch rather than running useless tests. And that’s obviously a much better way to spend your time.
Become Sherlock Holmes Of course, if you want to hypothesize, you first need to have some idea as to where you’re losing the most customers. But perhaps you don’t have a clue! You just feel you’re not doing as well as you could. The answer to that dilemma is simple: become Sherlock Holmes.
We’re not talking about dressing up as Sherlock, of course! Although Joost and Michiel have found this can really help bringing themselves in the right mindset. What we mean is you have to be open to all options and really investigate your website. And there are quite some ways to investigate. We’ll name two here.
1 Google Analytics The most obvious first place to look is Google Analytics. You can read more about Google Analytics in the previous section in this book. Google Analytics really is a treasure trove when it comes to usable data. You can find out where people are entering and leaving your website. Or find out what people are searching for within your site, where in your sales process people are dropping off, etc.
2 Surveys In come the surveys! Surveys are really the easiest and least intrusive way to get direct feedback from your visitors. And you can just ask the questions you’re interested in. The results of your surveys could really pinpoint the mysterious issues you’ve uncovered in Google Analytics. In the next chapter we’ll go into detail of how to use surveys and what you can do with them.
Why test at all? If you have read our book and investigated upon the improvements you could make on your website, why not instantly make these changes? Why should you test first? Your website and your product are unique. We always recommend A / B testing if you make improvements. Testing your improvements makes it far less likely that other factors are influencing your outcome. So you simply know more surely that it’s really the changes you’ve made giving you the better or worse results.
Tools There are several ways of creating your test variations, but the easiest way by far are A / B testing tools. Our personal favorite is Convert (check convert.com/yoast for an awesome free offer), because they simply have the best support and could help us in ways none of their competitors could. Convert makes sure that half of your visitors views the old page (A), while the other half will visit the new and improved page (B).
To get started In order to get started you thus need two versions of the page you’re improving. Subsequently, you’ll need a tool like convert to analyze your results. These A / B testing tools make it possible to create variations without any knowledge of coding whatsoever.
Yoast Tip Use our free Convert Experiments by Yoast plugin. With a few simple clicks you’ll be able to create variations and test them against each other.
Analyzing Convert will help you to interpret your results giving charts like these:
You can easily interpret which variation gets most conversions or most sales. When differences are small, you should be more careful with your interpretation.
Setting up A / B tests There are a few things you need to be aware of, when you’re setting up your tests: 1 When setting up A / B tests, you shouldn’t be afraid to make big changes.
People are often seduced by people saying that making a minor change gave them a huge increase in sales and revenue. But don’t fool yourself: 119
this most probably won’t be the case for you. So to get big improvements in sales, you’ll need big changes. 2 Don’t stare at your conversion rate of the individual products too
long. The only thing that should really matter to you is your revenue. Sometimes a variation with a lower conversion rate actually earns you more. People might buy more, or more expensive products from you due to the changes you’ve made. 3 Check if what’s being tracked by the A / B tool is actually accurate.
Unfortunately, it happens too often that your A / B tests are missing some sales. This can as simple as a page where you’re selling the same product, which you’ve forgotten. However, sometimes there’s actually really something wrong. So keep an eye on your data! 4 Have patience with your tests. We usually tell people to leave tests
running for at least 7 days. This will make sure the differences in days are always accounted for.
Survey research Introduction In this chapter, we will teach you the basics of doing a survey. We’ll explain the purpose of doing a survey and give practical tips on how to set up a survey and to (start to) analyze results.
Knowing your audience: do a survey Google Analytics gives some information about your visitors. But besides that, you are pretty much clueless about your audience. If you have a webshop, you’ll know some things about the people who buy your stuff. You probably know where they live, maybe you know how old they are and whether they are men or women. However, you’ll only have information about those people who decide to buy something. You’re still left entirely in the dark about the intentions and characteristics of people who don’t buy your products. The only way to really get an idea of your audience, their characteristics and their intentions is to ask your audience questions.
Why is it important to know your audience? Of course you’ll have some idea of what your audience looks like. You have an image of a visitor in mind when you’re writing an article for your blog, or when you’re adding products to your webshop. If you have a 121
personal website with your scientific work on it, it is to be expected that your audience will consist of people with a personal or professional interest in your field of expertise. If your have an arts and crafts webshop, your audience will probably be people who like to use scissors. So, why should you do a complicated survey and annoy your visitors with questions you already have the answers to?
Multiple audiences It could well be that you’re reaching people who are somewhat different than the audience you had in mind. Or perhaps, you’re reaching multiple audiences. In our example of the arts and crafts webshop, you could be reaching both the die-hard arts and crafters as well as people who shop incidentally. Next to that, you could be reaching people who shop to do arts and crafts with their children, while another group visits your website for professional materials. These different groups within your audience could very well be looking for slightly different products. Also, it could well be that in order to be convinced to buy your product, these different groups need a different approach.
Adept marketing strategies Knowing your audience better allows you to adjust your marketing strategies on your audiences, making them more effective. Also, it allows you to consider making adjustments to your assortment on the base of your audience’s preferences. Read Mariekes Post on yoast.com for more explanation about the advantages of knowing your audience.
Setting up a questionnaire It seems so easy. You just put some questions in a survey and present them to your audience. They’ll choose between some categories you’ve made up between coffee and lunch. Creating survey questions however, is complicated. If your questions aren’t well formulated you could be measuring the wrong thing. And if your questions are of bad quality, your results will be absolutely useless. Questions should be valid, meaning that they have to measure what you want them to measure. And questions should be reliable, meaning that questions should be answered in the same way by the same people, regardless of other factors (read more about validity and reliability in box 1.1).
Open questions or multiple choice You should think about the type of questions you want to formulate. The type of questions you choose depend largely on the number of people you’ll reach. Open questions (in which you will allow people to type their answers) will give much information, but the information will become overwhelming if you have too many respondents. If you have many respondents, multiple choice questions are much easier to analyze.
Formulating survey questions Here are some guidelines you should bear in mind if you’re formulating questions for a survey: 1 Make sure your question isn’t vague. For instance, don’t ask ‘have you
ever visited my website?’ but ‘how often did you visit my website in the last year?’. 123
2 Make sure that your question is understandable, try to avoid compli-
cated terms and long sentences. 3 Make sure you ask only one thing in your question. For example, don’t
ask people whether they like your products and your service. It could well be that they like your products but they don’t like your service and that makes the question impossible to answer. 4 Make sure your question it not suggestive but neutral. Formulations
like: ‘don’t you also think’, should be avoided. 5 Make sure that your question is applicable. You should only ask people
what they thought of your products, if these people have actually used your products. So you’d have to ask whether they’ve ever bought one of your products, before asking such a question. 6 Think about the answering possibilities you give people. Make sure
you give all possible answering possibilities. Be aware that answering possibilities give context to your respondents. 7 Think about the order in which you ask your questions. You want
people to fill out the entire questionnaire. Give everybody the same clear introduction. Begin with easy and non-threatening questions. Asking for income at the beginning of a survey is not wise. Make sure the questions follow a logical order. Pay attention to context! If you ask people about their opinion of your products after you asked them about your service, you could have influenced people by your previous questions. 8 Always make sure you test your questionnaire on some individuals who
could be part of your audience.
Box 1.1: Validity and Reliability Validity: The validity of a measurement tool (for example a question in a survey) tells us the degree to which the tool actually measures what it claims to measure. Sometimes it is referred to as accuracy. Reliability: Reliability is the extent to which a measurement gives consistent results. So, if you pose the same question to the same person twice, will the answers be the same? A reliable measurement tool results in the same answers over and over again. Difference between reliability and validity: Imagine a person of 200 pounds stepping on the scale 5 times and getting readings of 15, 250, 95, 140 and 500 pounds. This scale is not reliable, because the reading is different every time. If the scale consistently reads 150 pounds, the scale is reliable, because the readings are the same. However, the scale is not valid, because the weight is wrong. It does not measure what you want it to measure.
So how do you collect the data? After you conscientiously formulated your questionnaire, you can set up your online survey. There are numerous free (and premium) packages that allow for an online questionnaire. For example Polldaddy but other packages could work fine as well. You can set up a questionnaire that 125
pops up when people enter a certain page on your website. You can also send a link to your questionnaire in your newsletter. It is really easy to create a questionnaire in such an application. Subsequently, people will fill out the online questionnaire and the data are stored in the online application of your choice. Some packages allow for uploading of the results in an Excel file. You can subsequently do analyses in any statistical package. If you are not such a statistics nerd, you can leave the data in the survey package and start analyzing within the package.
Yoast Tip At Yoast we usually work with Polldaddy because of the beautiful integration with WordPress.
Analyzing your data Survey Package instantly present your results. Polldaddy presents frequencies and percentages in an easy to grasp format. Polldaddy also allows for filters, which makes it easy to analyze specific groups. For most website owners, those tables are all they need. You can see what people answered to your questions. If you want to do more sophisticated analyses, you should make sure to upload your results in an Excel format. You can use Excel to do your analyses, but we would recommend using SPSS or R.
Further reading In this section, we explained the basics about doing research on your website. On yoast.com, we have recently started doing research ourselves. We aim to write scientic articles as well as blog posts on yoast.com about our experiences and results.
Social Media by Annelieke van den Berg
About this section Most of us internet users are active on social media. If you want to reach your audience, social media is the way to get to them. In this first chapter of this section weâ€™ll explain what social media are and why you should use them. In the next and final chapter of this section, we will explain differences between social media channels and give tips how to use social media to your advantage!
Why use social media? What is social media? Back in 2002, Friendster and MySpace were the first real social media websites. The social aspect of the internet already existed of course. The community website GeoCities could have been the basis of our current social media. In 2003 LinkedIn started. In 2004 Mark Zuckerberg set up Facebook. Now, ten years later, 70% of internet users are active on social media. It’s hard to summarize all social media in one sentence. According to the Oxford dictionary social media is ‘websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking’. But there is so much more. If you are a business owner, social media is a tool for marketing. If you are a web developer, social media is a place to gather and discuss new things and problems. If you find it difficult to make new friends, social media is your dating service. Presently there are a lot of social media channels and the list keeps getting longer and longer. It’s safe to say that the most popular social media channels at this moment are Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn. But there are many more: About.me and Habbo. And some music loving people just can’t say goodbye to MySpace either. 130
In chapter 22, we discuss the most important media channels in detail and explain a bit more about how you should use them.
Why should you use social media? We have already mentioned the word-of-mouth marketing social media can do for you. Thatâ€™s just one aspect. It does help to create authority like that. Besides that, social media help a lot to grow a community around your website. If you can get people to commit to your brand or website by liking your Facebook page or following you on Twitter, that means you can create a regular audience for your blog posts. If we release an article on yoast.com, the first thing we do after that is using social media to push that article to the public. We have a number of followers on Twitter that automatically share our content with their followers, which creates a snowball effect: more and more people will know we have published that article and the new and return traffic to our website increases.
Yoast Tip Note that when sharing your article on Facebook, people can comment on Facebook as well. Keep a keen eye on the shared article and reply to any questions or remarks people add on Facebook.
Social media is important for SEO You should also use social media as part of your SEO strategy. As social media become popular, Google and other search engines canâ€™t ignore them any longer. Google even made its own social medium called Google+. 131
It means that your siteâ€™s popularity on social media is getting more and more important for your marketing campaign as well as for SEO. The reason for this is simple: if people talk about you, online or offline, you will be important in relation to the topic at hand. Social media is the new marketplace, where people share questions and reviews about products and events. And youâ€™d better make sure these are your products and events, right? Tweets and Facebook posts donâ€™t get the highest rankings in Google, but Facebook pages and profiles for sure do. See what happens when you do a search for Yoast:
As you can see, Google returns Yoast’s Twitter account and Facebook page as the third and fourth result. So make sure you have these social profiles and use them on a regular basis. Your social media account must be public. So for instance, if you write a great post on Facebook and you want Google to see it, you must set that post as public.
Yoast Tip We have successfully deployed Facebook campaigns and promoted posts on that platform. With all the information Facebook has gathered from their users, they allow to target your ads right in the middle of your target audience. If you haven’t tried that jet, be sure to investigate the possibilities of Facebook advertising for your company or product. It’s a very nice and affordable way to promote it.
How to use social media? Introduction In this chapter, we will explain how to use social media and which social media channel you should use for which purpose. We will give some useful tips how you can improve your own social media strategy.
Social media strategy Social media are easy accessible, free and quick. Pitfall is that people think too lightly about how to use them to their advantage. We would strongly recommend to take time to formulate a clear social media strategy. You should ask yourself the following questions: • What do I want to accomplish with the use of social media? • What audience do I want to reach with social media? • What content do I want to share with my audience (and what not)? • How does my social media strategy fit in my larger marketing
strategy? • Which social media is most suitable for my purpose(s)? • And of course: What’s my social media budget in terms of time and
money? Write down your answers to the questions above and you’ll have a first short draft of your social media strategy. 134
You should make sure the strategy you work out for your website fits with the purpose and the image of your website. Be aware of the differences between the social media channels and use these to your advantage. You could for instance choose to use Twitter to find new employees, Facebook to promote new blog posts and Pinterest to show new products. Social media is about more than just pushing your content. If you really want to use social media for your marketing, you must use social media on a regular basis. And you definitely should interact with your followers!
Social media channels The different social media channels have distinct features, making them applicable for different purposes. We recommend to use at least the three biggest channels: Facebook, Twitter and Google+. If you have lots of great pictures on your website, you should definitely use Pinterest too. And if you have a professional business, like accountancy or consultancy, use LinkedIn.
Yoast Tip Create a publicly accessible account and donâ€™t just use it to push website content on there; actively engage with your audience!
Facebook Facebook is great for interacting with friends and family, but the business section of Facebook is really valuable as well. Company pages help both website owners and brands to communicate with their (future) buyers. 135
Facebook also offers the possibility to boost your post, so it is available in your friends’ timeline much longer. You have to pay for such a boost, but you largely increase your reach with it. It is yet another way you can ‘advertise’ in Facebook. We mentioned engaging with your audience before; Facebook also allows that audience to interact with each other. If you do a post on some subject, people that read that post on Facebook can ask and answer questions about that subject. It helps if you engage in that discussion as well, but sometimes the audience itself creates a valuable discussion that might even inspire you to a new post or product.
Yoast Tip There is a bonus to work in a company where everyone uses Facebook: You can use Facebook messenger for internal communication as well. It is easy to create groups and Facebook has a separate phone app for Messenger.
Twitter Twitter’s main characteristic is the 140 characters it allows for sending messages to the world of other Twitter users. It’s for short interaction, fast promoting of products. It’s a great source of information as well: just send your question on Twitter and someone will answer it for sure.Twitter is very useful to interact one-on-one with your users.
Most people follow loads of others, and sent lots of tweets. Due to that, messages on Twitter are only visible for a very short time in the timeline of your users. Retweets (other people repeating your tweet) help to keep the focus on that tweet. It is wise to write about a limited number of topics on Twitter. People cannot see all your messages and if you tweet about numerous topics, chances are larger that people don’t find your tweets interesting and unfollow you. Limiting the subjects also strengthens your authority on these subjects. Do make sure that your tweets keep a personal touch. people should have the idea that a real person is tweeting and not some company-tweet-bot.
Google+ Google has its own social network as well: Google+. Up until now, most people aren’t very active on Google+ (this could of course be different in your specific niche). We do recommend to create a Google+-account anyway. The reasons for creating a Google+ account aren’t reasons having to do with social media at all. There are other benefits that come with a Google+-account. In our WordPress SEO plugin you can add Google+ author and publisher highlighting for your website. Using our plugin that way could lead to Google deciding to display your name in the search results. In fact in the past they’d even show your photo in the search results but they’ve stopped doing that in June 2014. Google combines your posts from all the sites you write for (and how people interact with them) to determine your authorrank around a topic. A well-known author could have a positive influence on the authority 137
of the post. While this isn’t very influential yet, it might become more influential in the future. Google uses this feature as well to determine who’s the owner of certain content. This is called authorship. If you are an online publisher, you can use Google+ publisher to tell Google that all the content on your website is yours. You should simply add rel=”publisher” for your Google+ Page (business) to your homepage. That code is generated by our plugin, or you can read more about how to do that here.
Pinterest For some websites and companies, Pinterest could prove to be very valuable. If you’re selling products and have nice pictures of these products, you should definitely use pinterest to promote these. If you are for example an interior designer or a photographer, Pinterest is your online portfolio. If you create idea boards, people will start to follow these boards. This could be a great way to market new products. Another example: if someone’s son is really into buses, and they want to create a bedroom for him with that theme, Pinterest is where they might get new ideas for that. If you have a business that sells wall decals, you want that customer to find you and your bus wall decals. Adding pictures of your products to Pinterest could lead new customers to your products.
LinkedIn Of all the social platforms we mentioned, we think LinkedIn is the most ‘boring’ one, as it is really targeted to professionals. That doesn’t mean it’s not valuable! Companies should definitely make a LinkedIn company 138
page, to make sure potential employees can find them. LinkedIn could be useful to post job-openings and to (keep in) contact with other companies. LinkedIn is also very valuable to share findings and get responses to new products if you actively engage in Groups. You can easily set these up yourself or join an open group. For specific topics, LinkedIn also allows for closed groups where new members have to apply. If you have a group of your own, you can send group announcements and email all members, which might come in handy in case of product releases or surveys.
Social and sharing buttons for your website Social buttons When referring to social buttons, unlike social share buttons, we mean the buttons or icons on your website that link to your profiles on social platforms. If people follow these links, they can for instance like your company or website on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter. The most important thing about social buttons is that you donâ€™t hide them in the footer; they need to catch your visitorâ€™s eye. Use buttons that are not too small and not too fancy, and above all are easy to recognize as social buttons. They should have a prominent place on your homepage and other pages, for instance at the top of your page or as the very first item in a sidebar. Social buttons that seem to work best are buttons like this:
Yoast Tip Use social sharing buttons that mimic the style of the sites they’re aimed at. People should recognize the social medium instantly.
Sharing buttons Sharing buttons are used to share and / or like, recommend or retweet a specific page or post on your website. We advise to place your sharing buttons near the content, preferably underneath your post. The reason for that is that if you want a quality tweet, people should at least have read the post. Makes sense, doesn’t it? As with social buttons, use sharing buttons people will recognize as such. And keep in mind that they should not look exactly the same as your social buttons. Most social platforms offer a variety of buttons, we have chosen to use these on our website:
In conclusion Social media is becoming more and more important, because everybody uses it. We don’t know how search engines will treat social media links, likes and shares in the future. We do know that social media is increasingly important for SEO. That’s why we advise you to really think about your own social media strategy and definitely use social media on your website.
Further reading This section covered the very basics of the importance of social media for your website. You should keep up with all the trends in social media in order to keep up to date. If you want to read more about our view on social media, you can read our blog posts about Social Media.
Speed by Joost de Valk
About this section Site speed is important for user experience as well as for SEO. It is definitely something you should be focussing on when improving your website. In this first chapter we will focus on the importance of site speed and we will introduce numerous tools to check your site speed. We will give practical tips to improve the speed of your own website. We would like to warn you and apologize: site speed is a technical subject. This section could be a bit (too) technical from time to time. We try to give lots of further reading options to create many options for you to eventually grasp the general idea.
Checking your site speed Why is site speed important? UX and conversion Having a slow website will have a serious negative impact on your user experience. People get more frustrated with a website which takes ages to load. Satisfaction with a website and site speed thus go hand in hand. In order to keep your customers happy and satisfied, you need to keep your website speed high. Of course, satisfied visitors are much more likely to become buyers in your webshop, than dissatisfied customers. Website speed is thus very important for your conversion as well.
SEO Site speed is one of the factors that determine whether you get a good ranking in Google. While site speed was historically not the most important one, itâ€™s growing in importance more and more. This means that having a faster website will increase your ranking position in Google. A slow website, will result in a slow crawling rate that Google uses to index your site. Making your website faster, will be a relatively easy way to increase the ranking position in Google.
Which tools can you use to test your site speed? In our website reviews, we always check the site speed of a website. Obviously, site speed is different when checking it from different locations. Just one reason why speed tools do not always provide the same results. That is why we use all these tools in our site reviews and do not rely on just one. • Google PageSpeed Insights • Pingdom Tools • Yslow • WebPageTest
Google Page Speed Insights splits mobile and desktop, Pingdom Tools allows for multiple locations and Yslow has segmented the checks nicely. WebPageTest has a few main checks it grades nicely. We would recommend to use all of these tools to check your site speed. Combined they give the most complete overview of the site speed of your site. If you want to test your site speed, you can fill out the url of your website in these tests. They review the speed of this site and give a list of options on how to improve upon your site speed. Both Google and YSlow have reasonably good, though slightly techy, explanations on the various aspects that you can improve.The other tools show somewhat less explanation and are a bit harder to interpret.
Increasing your site speed Introduction In this chapter we will first introduce the most important problems which cause low site speed. We will explain these problems, discuss possible solutions and provide some practical tips.
Three Common problems You can basically divide the problems with site speed into three groups: • too many files / requests; • file size (files that are too large); • slow responses by the web server.
We will discuss these problems in depth, while offering practical solutions.
Especially when people are visiting multiple pages of your website, you would like them to click relatively quick through your pages. You would want the second and further page loads to be quite a bit faster than the first one. Reducing the number of files on your page can be done in different ways.
Solution 1: reduce number of files The first way is to tell the users browser ‘this file will stay the same for the next year’ and the browser will save (cache) it locally and only has to load it once. We call this setting a far future expire time .
Yoast Tip Both the ‘far future expire time’ as well as combining of files can be done by plugins, for instance by W3 Total Cache. Another solution is to deal with it within your theme, by your developer.
File size Problem 1: file size You know by now that your website is built in all kinds of complicated code. These HTML, CSS and JS files often contain a lot of inline comments and whitespace. This makes it more easily readable for your developer, but there’s no reason why you should serve all of that to every visitor of your site. To a browser it doesn’t make one bit of difference whether there are a few carriage returns more or less in a document, it’ll just parse the HTML, JS, CSS the same way as it always does. Larger HTML, JS and CSS files makes the site speed go down.
Solution: minify This is why you should minify those files. This, again, can be dealt with by plugins, but it’s best if your theme has done it already. You’ll still want to minify the JS and CSS files added by plugins though.
Problem 2: image size Images can have a lot of metadata stored in them that makes them a lot slower. They can also have color information for colors that aren’t used inside the image. All of this makes for image files that are sometimes up to 30-40% larger than they need to be, causing your page to be slower than needed.
Solution: minify Tools like Smush.it and PunyPng (and there are tons of desktop versions of programs like this too, like ImageOptim for the Mac) can help you minify your images.
Yoast Tip Make sure that your image sizes aren’t too large! A common issue is people embedding an image that is displayed as 100 x 100 pixels at for instance a 500 x 500 pixels size.
Web server responses Problem: slow web server Another reason for low site speed could be found in a slow response of the web server. If your web server is overloaded with requests, it can sometimes take time for the web server to get to your request. It could also be that the server is on the other end of the world and there’s therefor some natural ‘lag’ between your request and the servers response.
Solution 1: CDN The only thing you really need to be served by your webserver is the HTML, the content of your site. The images don’t change and can be served from a server that is geographically closer to your visitor. A Content Delivery System (CDN) does exactly that, it retrieves static files from your server and then serves them from a server they have that’s closer to your visitor. These servers are also optimized for the delivery of static files and because of that much faster at it.
Yoast Tip We love and use MaxCDN for that at Yoast and have written more about that here.
Solution 2: get better hosting Site speed has a lot to do with the your hosting. Many of the things above are things that your hosting party could take care of for you. Hosts like Synthesis and WP Engine will do this and more and more hosts are starting to do this. It’s important to realize though that it’s absolutely worth it to invest in good hosting. $5 a month for hosting is, if you’re serious about your website, just not enough. If you can afford it, go for managed WordPress hosting and you’ll get a lot more help in improving your site.
Caching plugins There are two major caching plugins for WordPress, W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. While W3 Total Cache is technically superior and can do almost all of the things we’ve mentioned that you should be doing, we’ve also found it to be dangerous. It’s as though you’re giving a kid a butchers knife and tell it to cut its meat. Things might go wrong. You have too many options and if you do not know what options to choose, you could really slow down your site. We’ve had several occasions where a site we were reviewing was dog slow, and by unchecking just two boxes in W3 Total Cache, we made it much, much, much faster. 150
One of the benefits of using W3 Total Cache is that the plugin allows for expire times per filetype. Itâ€™s obvious that a CSS file will change a lot less often than an HTML file. If you add another post to your website, the HTML of every page that lists that post changes. Most plugins, like WP Super Cache, Quick Cache or Hyper Cache, to name a few, set one expire time for all filetypes. WP Super Cache does what it says on the tin: it caches your site. It does that well, without too many bells and whistles and therefore is often a better solution if youâ€™re not technical.
Yoast Tip Use W3 Total Cache if you are an advanced experience user, and choose WP Super Cache if you are only a beginner in the art of speed optimization.
Further reading In this section we have covered the very basics on site speed. Site speed is a relatively technical topic. Understanding this material requires some development skills (or budget to hire a developer). If you arenâ€™t scared off by technical stuff, you should definitely look into our posts about Development. Also, we wrote great posts about how to get Google to crawl your site faster, how to clean and speed up your WordPress site and about WordPress hosting parties.